INDIE, POP, ALTERNATIVE.......
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Columbia)
For those of you living under a rock, French electronic dance duo Daft Punk returned for a fourth album, Random Access Memories, last month. You knew that. Of course, you knew that. Who doesn't? It is only one of the most highly-anticipated records of all-time. The recent teaser trailer received a gazillion hits on YouTube, the first single 'Get Lucky' became the fastest-selling digital single over a one week period, and the album itself went to number one in almost every country... like EVER! You see what I did there? Yup, pretty much what every music website has been doing since the album was announced. It's so easy to fall into that age-old hype machine. I only mention this because I've noticed a few websites/publications are heaping immense praise on RAM (as we shall call it), while penning little more than a self-opinionated band biography as the basis of the review. Of course, I'm digressing but let's just say there are many black holes to be found in cyberspace...But say what you like, the promotion for this latest offering from the android double act has been nothing short of "in yer face." I think I knew the lyrics to 'Get Lucky' before the entire song was even released. It's a beautiful, sun-drenched, pina colada-splattered anthem, and the artwork, clearly inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller and other classic eighties albums, sets a feel that excites dance music aficionados more than the norm this time around.
I was introduced to Daft Punk way back in the post-grunge wastes of 1997, after a deejay friend turned me on to them via the critically-acclaimed debut Homework. It was exciting, scuzzy and street-level, and remains my favourite sixty minutes in their back catalogue by a long shot. It never left my turntable for a year and was a refreshing change from hard rock bands I liked, who were faltering from their peak at the time (not naming names). After three more releases, Discovery and Human After All, and the Tron Legacy soundtrack, Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo have established themselves as a leading force in dance music. With seven years elapsing since the last album proper, expectations were naturally going to be sky high, so I pretty much kept my nose out and held off from reviewing it. However, almost two months since the album dropped, and with the dust settled, I've decided to shine a belated light on it.
'Give Life Back to Music' opens things in a grand, windswept style, with trademark, syrupy robotic harmonies dripping all over fresh soulful pancakes. This will instantly annoy the Homework purists (and it's beginning to rub me the wrong way, I have to say), but solace can be taken in that the sound is firmly rooted somewhere betwixt the latter and Discovery-era. Not to knock the repetitiously robotic Human After All but perhaps this is the start of something "truer" in terms of continuity? Well, 'The Game of Love' takes an uncharacteristic shift down in tempo early on in the set but is a nice-enough jazzy croon regardless, with those all-familiar squelching basslines (ala 'Something About Us') throughout. The first real ball out of the park, though, is track three - 'Giorgio By Moroder'. The piece begins as a monologue from the prolific Italian music producer, painted against a Krautrock-inspired sound canvas, with almost genius-like beats that drop-in, portraying the words to wonderful effect like a film. And it's a jaw-dropping build to the finish line that fuses various styles (pop, funk, classical, drum and bass even) until the metallic rock-out climax. No if's or but's, whether you like you coffee strong or sweet, this one will wow you upon first listen.
The one thing that the veteran Daft Punker/ette will notice is how organic RAM sounds. Sure, Daft Punk will always sound like a Texas Instruments Speak and Spell on acid, but with this outing there's a lot less reliability on the pro-tools and more use of real instruments. In fact, there are a few tracks on here that actually make you feel like you're in the presence of a fully-fledged pop band. Next up is 'Within', which is your inoffensive ballad that plinks into the fizzy 'Instant Crush'. Featuring Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, it's a catchy synth-pop corker that will no doubt be a candidate for future single. Probably the closest Daft Punk have come in a "band" sense, although I feel the autotuning of Casablancas' vocals was a mistake. 'Lose Yourself to Dance' is the first of a two-song tag team consisting of Nile Rodgers (Chic) and Pharrell Williams (N.E.R.D.). It's a little underwhelming in my opinion, but, their previous song was always going to be hard to top. I think it's a little too restrained and doesn't let go as the beats imply they might. That's not to say that Rodgers and Williams don't fit with the Daft Punk attitude because they do, in a fine, fine manner.
Talking of collaborators, one of the most surprising is songwriter and actor Paul Williams. Being somewhat familiar with his work, I felt he was an unusual choice, and he is. The man has a strange, yet schmaltzy presence (he's a Muppets movie regular) but, golly, does he stamp his mark on this one. 'Touch' is arguably track of the album. A lengthy sparkling intro made me want to skip it initially, but then Williams' heartfelt lament kicks in - his sheer vulnerability will pierce whatever defences one may have with the guy. It's simply magical. He does bring on the cheese for a spell, when the song gives way to a cheap eighties salsa interlude before dropping into the most beautifully tender call to "hold on" because "love is the answer". The accompanying choir and celestial ambience just took my breath away.
Bangalter and de-Homem-Christo are no longer the electro-beat peddlers of old - they are true musical craftsmen. Seriously, it almost brings a tear to the eye. And before you can exhale, 'Get Lucky' is all over you like the ‘Disco Inferno’ plague that it is. The first Rodgers/Williams collaboration in the cannon, it's crazy to think of how quickly this one went from a shit-quality trailer to literally ingraining itself into dance music history forever. There's not much else to say other than it's the number one hit of the summer and the reason why RAM smashed up the charts worldwide. Albeit pleasant to the ear, both 'Beyond' and 'Motherboard' are not of the same calibre, unfortunately. It's not the first time Daft Punk have thrown out a filler or two ('Rollin' and Scratchin'', 'Short Circuit', etc.), so it comes as no surprise. 'Beyond' is another slow groove that reminded me of a remixed 'Veridis Quo' from Discovery. 'Motherboard' is on the other end of the scale musically, with brush drum, trippy, acoustic jamming (again, very much like a real band). You can't fault the two at the end of the day, but you do catch the whiff of "fill" over "thrill" in places.
More collaborations ahoy with 'Fragments in Time', this time with garage producer and longtime collaborator/singer Todd Edwards. Expecting some snazzy club vibes (like his previous appearance 'Face to Face'), I was surprised to hear a lush country pop ditty (why does 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' by Elton and Kiki spring to mind?) that showcases a gorgeous vocoder guitar solo not dissimilar to 'Digital Love'. How many Discovery references is that now? I guess it's the benchmark or what one would call Daft Punk's "peak", so I won't beat myself up about it too much. But however the story is told, RAM is a solid nod in that direction, generally. Experimentalist muso, Panda Bear, features on the penultimate 'Doin' it Right', which is a surprisingly addictive bop with all the breakdancey claps and beats that you need to tide you to the closing 'Contact'. Where do I even start here? I had to listen to it twice to process how fucking epic it was. I'm not even going to try and tell you. Okay, you forced my arm. Think Fatboy Slim on a dozen E's remixing the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey and you might be getting a bit warmer. The thing spectacularly splutters to a finish with a wall of static and the final void of silence. In a nutshell - stunning.
But is "stunning" an accurate description of the overall set? Well, yes and no. There's no denying that RAM is Daft Punk's best effort in over a decade, with a majority of it both feet in the "stunning" category, especially 'Giorgio by Moroder', 'Touch' and 'Get Lucky'. The problem is that it loses momentum on a few occasions and could have benefited from a sizable cull. Very minor gripe, though, as you can just skip whatever tracks you wish. The words are still as basic as always, but there are some that show maturity. Thomas and Guy are a very different unit now compared to previous albums, and it is a delight to hear fully-structured verse-chorus songs with real musical polish. It shimmers in the summer heat and shakes off into the sunset like a seventy-minute holiday clubbing in Ibiza.
Random Access Memories draws deep from the fountain and delivers in waves. Where they’re headed after this is anyone’s guess, but Daft Punk have definitely proved there’s more (synthetic) life left in re-sculpturing the classics. Review by Brett Dunford
Gaoler’s Daughter – How To Make Time
London four-piece Gaoler’s Daughter get you hooked on their sound within the first couple of minutes of listening. And the story that led them to bringing out their debut album, ‘How to Make Time’, too, is just as attention grabbing. Their album was entirely fan-funded by a loyal collection of independent music bloggers and live music lovers who treasured the band’s singles and was championed by people like Zane Lowe and Mary Ann Hobbes.
They site their influences as being bands like Sonic Youth, which definitely comes through on a few tracks on the album, but I feel that there are a few more modern comparisons to be made. They sound remarkably like Phoenix in a few of their songs, and that’s in no way a bad thing as to me it seems as though the British music scene is distinctly lacking an indie-psychedelic-pop sort of outfit, and Gaoler’s Daughter fill that hole very nicely. And they do so without sounding contrived and they manage to make their sound original and unmistakable. There’s a bit of an air of Arcade Fire about them, too, and on a couple of songs they also have elements of Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend. And when you’re making comparisons with bands like these, you know you’re in for a real treat.
Lead single Cordelia is the perfect introduction to exactly what Gaoler’s Daughter are all about. Its energy and pace has a definite Phoenix kind of vibe to it, yet it’s kept distinct and fresh by the reverb washed guitars. As with a few of the songs on the album, it almost has a sort of surfer vibe to it. Ditching the synths that make bands like Phoenix sound so unique, Gaoler’s Daughter still manage to create their very own brand of unique sounds by instead opting for sweeping guitars that create songs that all at once seem to have a much rockier edge to them whilst still maintaining that inherent dream-like sound.
The album has a nice balance between these more upbeat kind of songs and slower, acoustic songs like ‘Cuddling a Cigarette’, a beautifully simple little number that I wouldn’t have thought particularly fit with the rest of the album after a first listen, but now get that it really nicely breaks up the quite fast pace of the rest of the album. It also has a really interesting instrumentation, primarily driven by a repetitive acoustic guitar but with splashes of atmospheric electric guitar thrown in during the chorus.
The highlight of the album, though, has to be ‘When We Were Young’. This is the first song that I’ve heard in a long time which after the first 20 seconds managed to genuinely make me smile. It’s just an uplifting number pushed over the edge by the steel drums provided by ‘Steely’ Dan Monte which just give it an unparalleled edge and a song that you can’t help but stick on repeat. The production is especially good, and the more gritty guitars that occur occasionally, such as in the track 7th Wave don’t drown out the driving drums or lead singer John Sterry’s vocals. Take Eternal Bliss as another example of an extremely well executed song. Here we have a song where within the first minute the powerful bass knocks your socks off and then all of a sudden dreamy guitars swoop in to help you put them back on again. And all while this cacophony is going on we have whispers of ‘thoughts that would make the devil blush’.
This is a smashing debut effort and it’s clear that these lads have put a lot of time and effort into every song that they’ve done, as each is dripping with an unrivalled passion and it’s refreshing to hear of a band who’ve managed to get where they are on the back of the support of the fans. The lead single 'Cordelia' will be released on 12th August with 'How to make Time’ released two weeks later on 26th August. Review by James Lowther
Goldheart Assembly- Long Distance Song EffectsI remember seeing We Are Scientists in concert around 3 years ago in Manchester. Supporting was this little-known outfit called Goldheart Assembly. I loved them. They performed with smiles on their faces, enjoying every moment, bobbing like a folk-rock answer to The Beatles, some of the mannerisms of the players are indeed very Lennon/McCartney esque. I therefore went home and the next morning bought their debut album "Wolves and Thieves" on itunes. It hasn't left my ipod ever since. Its a perfect wintery record, some of the tracks bring back brilliant Christmas memories over the years and was a warm companion on the cold early mornings that a paper-boy had to ensue. As I've now moved on in my life, so have the band themselves. This new record brings new textures to the table of Goldheart, but they also issued it with a promise that a three year wait will not again occur, any later releases will be done with much more speed, very reassuring.
Dandy Warhols – Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia (Deluxe Edition)
Thirteen is one of those numbers most of us have a reaction to...whether we believe it’s lucky or unlucky it’s rarely neutral and somehow that oddball thirteen quirkiness easily translates to the Dandy Warhols. A decade and three years down the line, this album is one I’m happy to see re-entering the picture, it feels like a rock and roll friend you used to gig with, someone you haven’t seen for years and then you meet up, crack open a bottle and it’s like you’ve never been apart and as you re-tell each tale of mischief, hilarity, and high emotion you remember how good those times were, how good this album still is an always will be. There aren’t many commercially successful albums that start with three tracks in a row clocking in at over five minutes long. Couple that with biblical/philosophical titles such as Mohammed and Nietzche and you may suspect some of the general public would quickly switch off but I don’t believe that’s the case here. Dandy Warhols easily scale those spiritual, trippy heights and just as effortlessly bounce back down and get everyone on their feet to the strangely melancholic yet bouncing Get Off and that’s before we’ve even reached one of the most sublime slices of indie pop ever made. Yes, I’m talking about Bohemian Like You. This must be the cutest "bonding" song ever written, it's sexy, it's effervescent , and you just know the multiple layer on layer of likes will turn into LOVE. Let’s face it, any record that can be hijacked by Vodaphone and whatever the other corporate company that took a piece, and not be tainted by it, not be obliterated by it, not be basically ruined by it forever must surely be a true classic.
But wait, this is a double dose of Dandys – this time round there’s a second disc full of out-takes, demos, and other paraphernalia from Portland’s finest that somehow missed the boat, or jumped ship or got raided by pirates. There’s some unheard material here as well as tracks that made it to the final record but in different incarnations. I count three tracks here that could have comfortably co-existed on the album which are Later the Show, Ras Tafar and I and the brilliant closing track Dub Song (which is kind of Raf Tasfar and I revisited) an insistent groove that is very likely to crawl into your skull and have a jump around, a song that perhaps the band couldn’t decide quite what to do with.
Godless crops up twice, revealing some interesting insight into the evolution of this splendid track. I could be imagining it or mishearing it (though I happen to think mishearings contain meaningful messages) but in the first version Courtney Taylor Taylor sounds like he’s describing whoever the song is directed to as “gutless” rather than godless and in the other version I seem to hear him say “heartless” – but then, both these adjectives can be components in the state of godlessness. I’m sure I’m not alone in hearing the opening chords of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord submerged in the acoustic introduction which I believe is intentional – a turning away from God, whatever that means to you....the proud and defiant trumpet that found its way onto the final record hadn’t yet manifested in these tracks and the vocal take on the final record is a lot more restrained, almost seething in a hot and hurt way which is actually very powerful. The demos expose a much more meandering and open vocal that’s more intent on getting stuff out of his system. To keep things balanced there are thirteen tracks on both discs and though I don’t expect anyone other than hardcore Dandy Warhols’ fans to play the second disc very often it’s certainly worth a listen and captures an intimate snapshot of a band engaged in creating one of the most exciting albums of the last couple of decades. The band are currently touring the album and though I’m not a big fan of the current vogue of entire album performances, this is one I’d have to jump on as these tales need to be told and the track sequence structures a gripping narrative - so I’d hope they’d tell it in track order though knowing the Dandy Warhols they could tell it backwards whilst standing on their heads and everyone would still have a ball. Here’s hoping they come to town soon! Review by Mary O Meara
The Short Stories - Send My Love To Everyone x (Breaking Down Recordings)
“Send My Love To Everyone”, the fourth album from Bristol’s The Short Stories, is intrinsically and deliberately lodged in the world of middle-aged indie, and as onlookers to the recent “Scared To Get Happy” mini-festival in London will testify, it is a niche of sizeable interest. The Smiths and the gentler aspects of The Velvet Underground unashamedly provide the cushion to the album’s arrangements, but the fresh-faced youthful naivety of C86 now must be replaced by the reflective, worldly-wise outlook that life’s experiences have provided.
Opening track and bandcamp single “Angry Young Man” exemplifies this succinctly – “I Used To Sit In Confusion And Cry/Now I Laugh But I Still Don’t Know Why”. The unwittingly catchy hookline – “The Sun Will Rise Again” precedes a sudden left turn in proceedings halfway through the song, when its straightforward mid-tempo saunter veers haphazardly into a passage resembling the last attempt at a knees-up at the end of an exhaustive party.
Julian Cope entitled his debut album “World Shut Your Mouth”, and left it till album three to release his now famous song of the same name. The Short Stories upstage him with “Short Stories For Long Nights” – their debut album title finally nailing itself to a song by album four. This is the pearl of “Send My Love To Everyone”, somehow emphasised by the fact that this is the only lyric adorning the CD artwork. Working on the central theme of The Smiths’ “Rubber Ring” – about how “A Song Could Save Your Life” – The Short Stories expand on this celebration of escapism by eloquently depicting three examples; the overwrought teenager, the penniless short-term worker and the lonely widow – who turn to the “Short Stories For Long Nights” for valued respite.
“Make Me Happy” features two instances where the band take a humorous dig at themselves and their influences. No young band could ever authentically carry the lyric – “I Was Wandering Here Alone/Trying To Understand My Mobile Phone”, and they prove to be more than aware of a certain vocalist’s (not completely deserved) reputation with the couplet – “You Were Singing A Happy Song/I Think It Was By Morrissey But You Got The Words All Wrong”. “Are You Listening Now” confidently encases itself in the brain with immediacy and should with any justice or sense be the band’s next single – with the necessary backing this could provide the group its long overdue recognition.
The rest of “Send My Love To Everyone” coasts along inoffensively enough but doesn’t possess the magnetism and consistency of the songs detailed here, and a ten-minute re-recording of “Angry Young Man” to conclude the album could be commendably viewed as a worthwhile rounding device, but betrays itself as unnecessary filler.The album is available from the label website for just a fiver, and is definitely worth inspecting for that price. Review byLee McFadden
Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld - Still Smiling (Specula Records)
This collaboration between Italian composer Teho Teardo and Einsturzende Neubaten and former Bad Seeds lynchpin Blixa Bargeld is the aural equivalent of an all-consuming painting that stops one in their tracks, and reins existence into perspective with its measured, reflective tones – unveiling gradually with further examinations. The lyrics are in German, English and Italian. Multilingualism never aligning itself to me, on first listen through the download the moods and textures of the album became its focus. The fusion of strings and electronics – including notable contributions from The Balanescu Quartet – infuses a sense of awareness that the Television Personalities’ Dan Treacey encapsulated in his song title “Stop And Smell The Roses”. The music seems to also give rise to a message of caution, foreboding – an advisory direction not to rest on one’s laurels. The lyrics of the two self-penned tracks recorded completely in English – “Still Smiling” and “A Quiet Life” – reinforce this notion.
Whilst preparing the notes for this album I received the English translations. Unsurprisingly, deeper layers of the album bore fruit. “Mi Scusi (Excuse Me)”, versed in German and Italian, begins as a self-concsious apology from Bargeld about his lack of prowess in speaking Italian, lamenting that “The Accent Just Won’t Go Away”. The attention to the use of both languages culminates in an unresolved existential conundrum. “Come Up And See Me” intertwines frustrated isolation with the unlikely influence of Mae West. Whilst “waiting with vehemence.....my feet in cement” – light relief is offered with a slight variation on Mae’s classic quote - “Are You Happy To See Me Or Is There A Gun In Your Pocket?”. The track features lists of Italian news channels and concludes them with the declaration – “The Man Who Screwed A Whole Country”. Berlusconi? We wait alongside the song’s narrator for answers.
“Buntmetalldiebe (Metal Thieves)” takes the current wave of copper thefts and projects it into a future where more and more metals will be recklessly and audaciously stolen for profit. Prophesising the loss of entire iron bridges, monuments, manhole covers and Henry Moore statues – ultimately extending to the surreal suggestion of melting coins to increase the value of the metal from its everyday use in currency. A passing interest in the world of numismatism informs me that throughout history, this is certainly not the policy of The Royal Mint.
The surprise – and somewhat astute – sole cover version on “Still Smiling” is The Tiger Lillies’ “Alone With The Moon”, the original version featured on their 1996 album “From The Brothel To The Cemetery”. Blixa Bargeld counters Martin Jacques’ evocative soprano with his own weary sage-like delivery, equating the original’s tenderness and vulnerability. A duet with Jacques and Bargeld must surely be on the cards. Teardo and Bargeld have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of paying the ultimate homage whilst simultaneously treating the song as an integral cog in the progress of the album, rather than brazenly pushing it as an inappropriate standout.
There are no real “standout” tracks on “Still Smiling”, and this is meant as a genuine compliment. Each track is clearly meant to be there. Each track stands on its own merits and equally is not out of place in the structure of the album as a whole. In the age where the concept of the album is being largely devalued by the ease of purchasing individual tracks online, “Still Smiling” states the case for the importance and vitality of the existence of the “album” – any song overlooked detracts from the intended listening experience.“Defenestrazioni (Defenestrations)” concludes the album – Blixa Bargeld’s memorable satire of his own interviews encompassing the middle section. “Are You Going Back To Play With Nick?” “I Think Since FM Einheit Left Your Music Has Softened A Lot” and the hilariously ridiculous “Wasn’t It Terrible To Be Enclosed By A Wall?”. So ridiculous, it is probably a genuine quote.
Further excursions into this album will render these opinions embryonic. “Still Smiling” is a methodical, multi-dimensional, melancholic work that is intrinsically designed and prepared to provide fresh experiences with each listen. Not an album to be casually half-acknowledged, “Still Smiling” is to be nurtured and respected with your full immersion from beginning to end. A truly vital release. Review by Lee McFadden
Visage - Hearts and Knives (Blitz Club: Control Room)
Visage return with their fourth album and the first for twenty-nine years – following on from 1980’s hugely popular eponymous debut, 1982’s equally effective “The Anvil”, and 1984’s “Beatboy” – which until researching for this review I must admit I’d never heard of. I suspect copies must have sold, but undoubtedly it never received the attention of its predecessors - maybe it was one release too many.....
To the present – a digital age, a whole new generation revering their parents’ taste in electronic music – and in 2013 the climate, market and fashions seem suited and booted for Visage. “Hearts and Knives” sees Steve Strange regrouping Steve Barnacle on bass from “Beatboy”, and introducing to the band new co-vocalist Lauren Duvall, and Robin Simon – one-time guitarist of both Ultravox and Magazine – groups who of course contributed heavily to the original Visage line ups. In the early days, style was the ultimate focus. Now it is accompanied by a strong and wilful assertion for authenticity. Analog synthesizers are employed, publicity notes declare no software packages were used – and the attention to detail to recreate the sound of those halcyon days could have appeared bewildering, if it hadn’t instilled complete anathema to Strange’s decidedly here-and-now personality of the early eighties. To be fair, would he have imagined himself back in the recording studio all these years hence?
Well, Visage are back, and around half of “Hearts and Knives” is instantly engaging to ex Blitz Club members, veteran fans and new internet disciples alike. “Never Enough”, opening single “Shameless Fashion” and “She’s Electric (Coming Around)” rubber-stamp the Visage sound that we’re all accustomed to. Steve Strange’s vocals were never remarkable but they’re still the same and reassuredly recognisable. “She’s Electric” even cheekily duplicates the drum machine introduction of their classic hit “Fade To Grey”. “Hidden Sign” and “I Am Watching” tend to be confident and accessible, but less uniquely Visage – nods to the Human League and Duran Duran are evident.
The second single “Dreamer I Know” exhibits a chorus that borders on the vacuous – and the characteristic fretless bass style gloriously pioneered by Japan’s Mick Karn (R.I.P.), and amateurishly xeroxed to the point it had become nauseously irritating by 1990 reappears here, emphasising the importance of the invention of the “skip” function. “On We Go” and “Diaries Of A Madman” places Strange in earnest, meaningful territory – a terrain that proves markedly uncomfortable. The debates on the blurred distinction between sanity and madness have plundered on in modern music since the days of the eight-track cartridge, and “Diaries.....” merely adds to the tedium of the subject rather than addressing any new theories and angles. The turgid “Breathe Life” closes the album with brash ill-conceived philosophies – “Be What You Are”, “Say What You Feel”, etc. All well and good until you find that the resulting consequences leave these pearls of naivety permanently stymied. The song peters out in such a weak demoralised fashion I had to check that my download was in the correct running order. Knowing now that it was, “Breathe Life” concludes “Hearts and Knives” with quite possibly the most inconsequential ending to an album that I have ever heard.
“Hearts and Knives” could have been a towering EP, but as an album it deteriorates in its effectiveness, and wilts in its attempts at substance. A somewhat muddling affair. Review by Lee McFadden
The Lone Ranger – Wanted (Music Inspired By The film) (Disney)
As someone who hasn’t seen the film in question, I cannot comment on how well this all plays against its’ celluloid counterpart, but this second soundtrack in the Lone Ranger series delivers some lovely melodies from a pretty impressive guest list. From Ben Keller’s fire and brimstone-esque ‘Holy Water’ intro, through Iggy Pop’s starry night country lullabye ‘Sweet Betsy from Pike’ and Shane MacGowan’s insanely jolly sing-a-long ‘Poor Paddy on the Railway’, it is a one-time opportunity to obtain a great collection of songs in a unique place for a reasonable price.
Conceptually, it fits in, as most of the offerings have a ye-olde “drunken sailor” quality. It’ll pass an otherwise boring car journey or two at least. And, hey, it’s got me interested in viewing the movie. There are worse things you could blow a tenner on. Review by Brett Dunford
Drew Holcomb and The Neighbours - Good Light
Recording your sixth album can go one of a couple of ways. You can either keep going, churning out what you always did or try and experiment a little and create something different and maybe challenging. "Good Light" is neither of these. Drew Holcomb has gone back to the start and concentrated on an album of the art of songwriting. For much of the album, this should be Drew Holcomb's first solo album. Most of the songs are man, voice, acoustic guitar. This allows the album to flow and has a familiar feel right from the first song "Another man's shoes" to the final "Tomorrow".
There are three or four songs which can stand out on their own and for me, there are two stand out songs, the beautifully intimate "What would I do Without You". With a title like that, I don't need to explain the story. This is a really smooth note to wife Ellie, obviously, following the birth of their first child. "Nothing Like a Woman" is good old south rhythm and blues foot tapper. Holcomb's voice is gravelling it's way through a head swaying ditty that stays with you, with easy, free flowing lyrics, boogie-woogie piano and good old southern guitar licks.
After providing touring support for the likes of Ryan Adams and The Avett Brothers, this may be the album where a lot more get to hear about Drew Holcomb and his Tennessee Neighbours. This is a well crafted album that gets better with each listen. Review by Philip Howe
Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo - Dear River
The current Artist of the Month on www.folkradio.co.uk Emily Barker seems to be on a bit of a roll with her fourth album since heading to these shores from Australia in the early 2000’s. The first album which she hasn’t had to self fund, “Dear River” has already earned considerable early acclaim with 4 and 5 star reviews from the likes of The Times and Maverick Magazine to What Hi-Fi, so it’s clearly a case of finding out what all the fuss has been about.
With many of the songs previewed in live arrangements prior to recording, the arrangements have become well established and bedded in and display an assured confidence and a quality with Emily’s all female backing trio The Red Clay Halo providing subtle backing throughout the album. As borne out with a lovely clear production, the fuller band sound of the country tinged title track – a perfect soundtrack for the spell of tropical weather the UK is experiencing right now – and the “walk this land together” bluesy guitar and harmonica blast of Ghost Narrative, is contrasted with the more subtle Sleeping Horses and Letters where Emily’s voice is at its most sensitive and delicate. At times during the exquisite Letters, which tells the heart tugging tale of unanswered letters and the emotions of loss in a wartime context se with the which builds before drifting to a conclusion, her voice becomes so fragile it feels like it’s about to break. Alongside Luke Jackson’s Last Train, from his More Than Boys debut album, it shows a remarkable maturity of writing and sensitivity which seems at odds with such young musicians and a tribute to how they can empathise and convey such feeling.
Undoubtedly, there are influences – Tuesday drifts into Springsteen territory with violin floating in and out of the rhythms and lyrics while the lyrics reflect a range of story telling which goes beyond the typical and traditional folk music fare but with a more contemporary take on themes of travel and of love and loss. With the sequencing of a CD these days being a crucial element to how the songs flow and to how the artist wants to present their work (just like in the old days of Side 1 and Side 2), the although the gentle set closer The Blackwood works well with a taste of the Americana influence which pervades the album as she sings, “I hope I know which way to go”
Emily and the band have a month of in store appearances running throughout July and a lengthy headline tour lined up for October and November. On the strength of this album, she should be well worth catching live and is well on the way to becoming established as a serious and respected player in the folk and acoustic arena. Review by Mike Ainscoe
ALT - GRUNGE, ROCK, BLUES, ROCKABILLY, PUNK.......
The Quireboys – Beautiful Curse (Off Yer Rocka)
You can always depend on The Quireboys for a good shot of old school English rock and roll. Their 1990 debut A Bit of What You Fancy was an underrated take on the glam/blues rock revival that saw bands like The Black Crowes soar off into the stratosphere. Now the boys are back on tour with a new album entitled Beautiful Curse, which is on the Off Yer Rocka label.
Bluesy opener, ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ sets the thing off with a bang, strutting with all the swagger of a thousand Rod Stewarts (you may throw bricks at me). Overall, the songs are pretty catchy (‘Talk of the Town’, and ‘Diamonds and Dirty Stones’ to name a few) and chew the time in head-bobbing fashion. ‘Mother Mary’ is just beautiful and worth every drop of your lighter fuel.
It’s all smothered in Southern goodness and delivered in the trademark Quireboys style. Not much to paw at, really, because Beautiful Curse is a joy from start to finish. It’s not going to revolutionise music but is a pleasant entry in the database. Besides, it’s a perfect excuse to dust off those leathers, wrap that freyed bandana around your head, and get your arse down the front to relive it all again when the band hit the road this Summer. Review by Brett Dunford
Star And Dagger – Tomorrowland Blues (Megaforce)
Star and Dagger’s mighty opening salvo, Tomorrowland Blues, is a short and sweaty juggernaut through the darkest shit-holes of Nawlins. With noticeable nods to The Runaways, Sonic Youth, and even PJ Harvey, the all-female three-piece from Louisiana tread the line between grunge and Southern rawk.
‘In My Blood’ and ‘Freak Train’ are blisteringly dirty, while tracks like ‘Before It’s a Crime’ change the game drone-style, with bone-crunching bass work ex-White Zombie axe-woman Sean Yseult. The single ‘Your Mama was a Grifter’ couldn’t be any further away from the true heavy style of the record, so beware softies.
While Star and Dagger are a band probably best experienced in a live capacity, the music is tight, the vocals are clean, it kicks arse and the length of the album is completely inoffensive. If you like your riffs thundery, give them a shot. Review by Brett Dunford
The Black Clouds - Better Days
New Jersey's four piece The Black Clouds provide a great example of an outstanding D.I.Y. record in their latest release Better Days. The band themselves produced, recorded and funded the 13-track album, which was mixed by producer John Angello, who worked with bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and The Hold Steady.
The album revives the true spirit of raw, honest and dominant rock, showing there are still bands out there who know how to master a supreme, heavy record with a real, classic feel to it as well as putting their own stamp on it. Better Days is an ambitious musical piece that features alternative rock at its very best. The staggering bass intro in No Reason strikes like a lightning and gets accompanied by really impressive guitar riffs and fierce vocals that continue through the record colliding with some beastly drum beats in Breathing and Again. Fray is a beautifully haunting track, which slows down the frenzy with its nostalgic aura before entering the second half of the album, returning back to the darker, louder side with more stormy riffs and sharp vocals in I’ll Be Gone, Stalemate and All or Nothing.
The melodies are exceptional and powerful, making the listener fall completely for this D.I.Y. masterpiece charged with amounts of passionate force. The Black Clouds take us back to the days when rock music was written and performed with a higher purpose, leaving all the commercial bullshit aside, staying true to what you believe in and making long lasting music by putting the whole heart and soul into it. Review by Eva Jostakova
Dinosaur Pile-Up - Nature Nurture
SCREAAAAAAAAAAM, SCREAAAAM AT MY REFLECTION! It seems that Matt Bigland's own reflection may indeed be everywhere within a matter of months. Dinosaur Pile-Up, an alt-rock/grunge trio from the heart of the riff-laden Leeds music scene, have evolved immensely over the past few years. With the release of "Growing Pains" back in October 2010, the band cemented their ideals as a true monster of independent, heavy British rock. Singles such as "Mona Lisa" and "My Rock n Roll" had been in development for years and were just waiting for a true recording opportunity. I enjoyed the album immensely and saw the band four times in support of it, at different points throughout the year. However, I think this time Bigland's truly cracked it.
Opener "Arizona Waiting" throws you straight into the gloomy deep pool that make up DPU's heavier spectrum, also being the first single released from the record. Already with a more ambitious production than its predecessor, Nature Nurture seems to also have been worth the wait, Biglands songwriting becoming much stronger as can be seen on bouncy 70's sounding "Peninsula" with a guitar solo that wouldn't be out of Eddie Van-Halen's repertoire. The bands lineup changes cause much discussion across the fan base- especially as the departure of brilliant harmonist Harry Johns on bass back in 2011 seemed to leave their live performances kinda flat. However, upon seeing them perform at Live At Leeds this year, they appeared stronger than ever, with James Sacha providing a great replacement on the 4 string. Basslines boom throughout "White T Shirt and Jeans"- a simplistic mourning boom to a previous lover and "Heather"- the most "Growing Pains"-y song on the record. The early sounds of Foo Fighters are constantly present in everything Bigland does, most notably this time around "Draw A Line" which opens slightly mono-like before bursting into a true surround sound stereo blast of guitar/bass/drums/. The true killer trio.
Pop hooks are never out of the question and the most pushed song from the album "Derail" shows the band mixing the hard with the soft to create a song within the video Diana Vickers (Britain's Got Talent/X Factor star) appears. Its accessible, its nice, its a perfect single choice with a catchy chorus and not too much in the form of head-thumping rawk- thats what the rest of the album delivers. "Start Again" is in the same kinda vein as the classic DPU track "Love Is A Boat..." this time its 3/4 timing really giving the song a different edge to some of the more clear cut sounds. "The Way We Came" is the token acoustic song, though unlike the previous time's "Hey You", this does not expand to blasting distortion, instead stays tame and cute. The title track finishes off a truly brilliant listen, simply shouting "Nature Nurture" over and over again can really achieve a decent end, along with a nice breakdown, into a balls-out finish. Dinosaur Pile-Up are back, and better than ever. Review by Callum Barnes
The Leeds music scene is probably the most exciting in the UK right now. It is also incredibly diverse. From I Like Trains, to Pulled Apart By Horses, Hookworms and Blacklisters, there is something for every fan of guitar-led jams in the county of Yorkshire. Hawk Eyes are one of the "veterans" of this circuit. Forming in the mid-2000's under the name Chickenhawk, a four piece attack was made which destroyed the ears of anyone who dared approach it. A true bird of prey. Debut album "Modern Bodies" still leaves most 'rock' records in the dust, its constant pounding of riff, drum skin and bass string is like being punched in the face over and over again. Its therapeutic and you want more. So the boys did more. Much more. Changing their name to Hawk Eyes for their second release, an EP on Brew Records titled "Mindhammers", this four track showed the recently formed fan-base what the band were actually capable of, above and beyond simple noise. This featured more straight structured songs, but a much more mature and refined sound which would have been completed perfectly in time for the release of their second full-length proper "Ideas" back in 2012. This album spawned many songs which are now must-haves for live shows- "Witchunt" "Bears By The Head" and "Headstrung". Amazingly, Kerrang and Rock Sound picked the album up immediately and praised it from up high, which is just what it deserved. Perfectly polished tech-rock which some true bite still left in from the good old Chickenhawk days.
Now we come to 2013, the band having been fairly inactive on the live front due to studio commitments in completing an album. But first this EP. The second EP release for Hawk Eyes. Immediately, the riff kicks in. The title track opens up, and the big smile is on my face. Hawk Eyes know how to do it. Lets throw a big monster out at the front of this release, then do more interesting and less-immediate things later on.So the title track amazes me. Straight to the point. The drums, oh the drums. When Steve Wilson (ex-DPU, Japanese Voyeurs) joined the band early last year, he was truly a replacement godsent. This track could easily fit into Ideas however, its nothing new, but its the safety blanket to set us off on the road to Hawk Eyes version 3. Oh and the breakdown, spectacular, just growing and growing until it explodes. Lead singer Paul then releases his scream which is perfect to draw the song to a conclusion. "Never Never Not Just Now" starts with a trancey guitar scape before the chorus breaks into some bass-heavy stoner rock loveliness. This formula continues throughout, this is where the material starts to sound very different to what these guys have done before. "Cheap" emerges as downright sinister- "CHEAP! I'D BE FINE IF I KNEW WHAT IT MEANS". Last song "More Than A Million" draws thing to a close with a rumble also including some lovely riff repetitiveness which hails back to the loud n nasty first record approach. Bring on that third album. Review by Callum Barnes
Gauntlet Hair - Stills
"Stills" is the second offering from this Chicago based duo and consists of ten tracks of slickly produced dark electro gothica. This is very much post punk with a drum machine. At times, the drum machine backdrop does become monotonous, but does hold all the tracks together well. The guitar riffs are precise and as equally well produced as they are varied, from the Bowie feel of "Simple" and the Nine Inch Nails of "Heave" to the psychedelic funk riff of "Falling Out". "Bad Apple" will appeal to any Depeche Mode fan and has a very familiar sound.
It is unfortunate then that after three minutes forty five seconds of the album, the stand out track has passed. "Human Nature" is a very 80/90s inspired opener with vocals reminiscent of Furniture's Brilliant mind and a pulsing bass that continues through to the end. This is definitely the pop song of the album.
The overall feel is an album which will appeal to Nine Inch Nails, or later Bauhaus fans, but one that is very much worth thirty one minutes fifteen seconds of your time. Review by Philip Howe
Tyla J Pallas - Devils Supper (electric)
The name Tyla J Pallas may not be too familiar but he may be more recognisable as Tyla the lead singer of the legendary Dogs D'Amour. They were a classic band around in the glory days of what was lumped in to the hair rock era. As per the facts of the Chart show rock chart, at one time Dogs D'Amour T-shirts were actually out selling the likes of Simple Minds and U2! Since the demise of the Dogs (who have actually recently reformed) Tyla has been routinely issuing a number of solo albums, many of which are singer/songwriter gothic acoustic ballad based. This latest release, however, is particularly interesting as the songs have been released as two separate albums, one acoustic and one electric. The electric version will be welcomed by the older Dogs fans as it is always good to hear Tyla rocking out.
The album opens with "Love Is" a cracking opening track which not surprisingly sounds like a Dogs D'Amour classic. Tyla has a distinctive voice that suggests a life time of smoking, drinking and hard living. The added horns are a nice touch and they feature on a few songs on the album to good effect. The next song "Long Shadows" also has an early Dogs feel with its bar room brawl sound, reminiscent of "The Kid From Kensington". "It Aint Over Yet" brings the feeling down with a great bluesy swagger to the song. It's a late night, down and dirty song. A technique which is repeated on "Religion" with its whisky soaked blues sound comprising of slide guitar and haunting vocals. "Green Eyed Girl" is the first single off the album and has a cool laid back feel to it. It moves along with a swaying beat, and has a pleasant warmth to it. It is guaranteed to generate a crowd sing a long at a live show. The track "Home" will generate the same crowd participation, as it has a simple and open sound but with a chorus which is infectious and built for drunken, arms around each other, singing.
It is obvious with some of the songs that they would be equally suited to being played acoustically. "All Alone" is more of a man and his guitar type track with a balladry effect. It evokes a feeling of heartbreak that is bound to suit a purely acoustic track. Similarly "In Another Life" really benefits from the impact of Tyla's 'gothic' sounding voice. In contrast, "Judas Christ", has a funky bass and the perfect opening partnership of twinkling ivories and slide guitar. The song is like a large, slithering, poisonous snake slowly edging towards the listener with tales of evil and temptation. The pace continues to pick up with "The Meaning of Fortune' which has a "Stonesy" feel to it. It is dark Rock N Roll with the apt lyrics of 'wrong side of fifty but act twenty five". The upbeat mood is continued with the simple but effective rockabilly/blues song "Yeah (I love You Baby)".
The album draws to a close with a couple of more melancholic tunes. "Ode to Jackie Leven" is a fitting tribute to the folk singer songwriter of the title with the appropriate celtic leanings in the ballad. Whilst closing track, "Wisdom", is a classic Tyla song with his drawl accompanying the pedal steel sounding guitar to produce a fine countrified number.
There is always a fear when a legendary musician releases a new album that this will be the one where he finally lets you down, thankfully, this is definitely not the case with this album. Indeed, it is possibly the best release from Tyla since those Dogs D'amour days when they use to reign as the sleaze rock champions. The fact it is electric invites greater comparison to his former band than his solo acoustic albums and there is no doubt it will be lapped up by his fans. Importantly it demonstrates the high level of songwriting talent of Tyla, so it will appeal to not only old fans but should also attract a whole new audience. One thing that can be guaranteed is that many people on hearing this album will be immediately purchasing the Acoustic version so they can discover all the songs again in a different format. Review by Paul Hastings
Hot Roddin Romeos - Booze Hound
The bands name and the fact they are described as Seattle's greasiest and sleaziest band probably tells you about as much as you need to know as an intro to the band! However, as a bit of additional information, Hot Roddin’ Romeos is a four-piece band from Seattle, Washington who offer up a sound which is “aggressive rockabilly, with sizzling guitar, and a psychobilly edge". If you are looking for a nice quiet album to just hum along whilst you undertake some kind of mundane task then you might as well just pass over this one and move on to the next review. This is very much an album to be drunk up alongside numerous beers and when you are in a mood for some mischief.
The album opens with the very appropriate sound of a can of beer opening and the title track which is a straight up, bluesy, rocker. "Hell bound" is a far darker, meaner song with an almost "metal" sound to the guitar which comes as a bit of a shock. This harder sound is repeated later in the album though on "Red Fury" which is fast and aggressive. Any fears of a really dark and heavy album though are quickly taken away by the next couple of tracks. "Moonlights" sees a complete change with tinkling ivories from the piano and suddenly we see where the "Romeos" part of the bands name comes from.It has an old school sound with an almost doo wop chorus. They then take things even slower in "Last Call" which is a ballad played with a straight bat and a lot of emotion. It is actually hard to believe that this song comes from the same band as "Hell Bound".
They keep up the good variety in the album on "Branded" which has more of a swing sound, but with a blues feel. It also adds a brilliant female voice which sounds really hot . The lyrics are good fun where the two singers share some banter giving their separate views on the events in the song. The "fun" element is continued with "Last Caress" which adds a bit more rhythm and a nice blast of saxophone. "Watcha Gonna Do" then adds an almost Ska feel to give an upbeat feel. Final track, "Bad Tattoo" again has a ska/reggae feel and there is no surprise to hear the line "singing to the clash last night" where their influence is clear. It's a great end to the album as it's fun, simple and would be great to dance to at a gig. There is certainly no harm in a bit of straight forward, good time, Rock N Roll.
The overwhelming reaction to this album is to admire the amount of diversity the Hot Roddin Romeos show when at the outset you probably just expect thirteen tracks of straight forward rock n roll. Perhaps the Clash reference in the final song is the clue, they are a band with their own style and sound but always willing to try something new. Review by Paul Hastings
Hard Fall Hearts - Last 24 Hours
Hard Fall Hearts hail from San Diego and are correctly described as a Punk/Rockabilly outfit. They describe their own sound as both dark and distinct yet reverent to the roots of rock-n-roll. This album is actually the bands debut album that was actually first released in October of 2008. It does, however, bring a timely introduction to the band as they are shortly due to release a brand new EP over the next couple of months.
The album kicks off with the sound of a guitar twang, rumbling bass and then the jungle drums rolls in on "Dull Day, Wild Nights". The whole sound builds to a hard hitting opener which is a really strong introduction to the band's sound. The first impression is of a modern, punk rockabilly band who bring to mind the Reckless Ones. The punk influences are apparent during other songs on the album, although most obviously on "Slave To Love". However, any fears of a one dimensional punk album are quickly removed on the title track, " Last 24 Hours" which has a much more relaxed opening and almost a vaudeville swing sound. It is a song of lament and regret which seamlessly moves from an almost ballad esque quality to a punkier sound. It is followed by "You Will Always Be" which adds an almost Wester/Country tinge to the sound. Yet the band still manage to maintain their punk/rockabilly edge.
With a title like "Devil Doll" it is not surprising to hear a good dose of swing thrown in to the mix but it's not long until it moves in to a hard rocking song. The band are clearly not scared of adding more of a swinging beat to their tunes as they repeat this on "Broke down" and it is again encouraging to see them step away from the more straightforward punk sound. Having said that, the Hard Fall Hearts also clearly recognise the value in a bit of simple, good time Rock N Roll. This is particularly evident on "At The Bar" where, as the title would suggest, the emphasis is on a great uplifting Rock N Roll song. It is possibly the most retro sounding song on the album, and one of the best, as it adds a bit more of '50s soul to their sound. The quality is kept up by "Creature Of The Night" which is again an upbeat rocking song. However, this song is actually a very modern Rockabilly sounding song, very reminiscent of Reckless Ones, who are another band bringing this genre to whole new audience. These two songs are probably the strongest on the album and provide an excellent mid section where many an album would falter. It demonstrates the high level of quality the band are able to achieve. Clearly maintaining this through out an entire album is difficult and it is no wonder that on some of the tracks, there is more a feeling of the need for some added variety and perhaps different dynamics.
The album certainly concludes with another cracking song, in the form of "Back To You" where the band also perhaps indulge their influences a bit more. It is more of an old school sound with a simpler rhythm and sound. It is a very good song and provides a fitting uplifting and fun end to the album.
Overall, Hard Fall Hearts offer a strong, modern Rockabilly sound. They manage to keep to the roots and influences of early bands but add more of a harder, punkier sound. This is very important if this type of music is going to find a new younger audience as it has an edge not found in more traditional/old fashioned sounding bands. Whilst there is an audience for the more retro sound, if the genre is to continue to be listened to, it needs bands like this willing to develop the sound. The album could do with a wider variety of sound and pace but there is nothing wrong with making a solid Rock N Roll album. It certainly suggests that this is a band to watch and you get the sense that they would be an awesome live band to see. Review by Paul Hastings
Young Things - Hello Love
This is the debut album from this band who, not surprisingly, hail from that coolest of places New York. One listen to this album would instantly make you feel that the band were created in an artistic and creative hot spot. That is not to say they come across as one of those, so hip that they must have been drawn up by an A & R man type band. In fact, it is important to highlight that this album is one of those which owes its existence to the excellent Kick starter idea. It is encouraging to note that the band have adopted a just go out there and make a record approach. Most importantly, it's an excellent album that will surely deliver even wider coverage for the band.
The album opens with an atmospheric and dramatic intro which has the feel of the Killers about it. This feel is also evident on "All Human Life" which shares that bands glossy pop sound, although it does have more of a sinister feel to it so perhaps echoes of Kasabian instead. The band's scope really opens up on "Lucy" which adds a more psychedelic feel to it. If you can imagine the Beatles as a modern indie band, then this is the sort of stuff they would be doing. It's rhythm and tune all mix into a crescendo of sound. Without wishing to cast aspersions on a really good song but it is probably the sound that Kula Shaker always dreamed that one day they would make.
Mid way through the album comes "Sore Eyes" which is a dramatic and slow paced song and gives the feel of a a mid set pace breaker. It is a song that would allow both the band and the crowd to collect their breath. The breather doesn't last for long, however, as "Talking Too Loud" has a great opening funky rift and sound that borders on an almost Reggae/Ska sound. In fact it is like an indie/pop version of a Clash song. The album then continues to peak with "Hello Love" which is a really good song that now invokes memories of Oasis. Importantly, we are not talking falling apart Oasis but the band when they were at their peak. It shows an ability to write good commercial indie hits with a tune that is both full of melody and passion. "Easy To Lie" throws another curve ball with an almost lounge room crooner approach to a ballad. This is not, however, some soft romantic ballad, it has a sleazier tone and with a bass line reminiscent of "Night Clubbing" by that lounge room lizard Iggy Pop. This association with deviants such as Mr Pop continues on "Goodbye Sexual". It has a great opening drum sound before moving in to a song that slinks and slides with a feeling of dubious sexual antics. It is the dark and sinister side of Indie Rock that was frequented by Brett Anderson and Suede during their peak.
This really is a great album and it has a breadth and diversity which is pretty rare today. Whilst there are plenty of reference points to influences, it remains unique and interesting. Comparisons to Kasabian may be most appropriate given the creation of sixties influenced Pop songs but with an added feeling of psychedelia and sleaze. It is surprising that Young Things have not been picked up by the likes of NME as the "next big thing/saviours of guitar rock" etc etc. The band certainly have that feel to it and are certainly as worthy of the accolade as bands such as Palma Violets and Tribes before them. It is, however, perhaps for the best that they don't suffer the same level of hype which inevitably leads to a backlash. Instead with this excellent album they will hopefully get the time to develop and build a true fan base, who base their love of a band on quality songs rather than just following a trend. Review by Paul Hastings
Screamin Rebel Angels - Hitch Hike
Screamin’ Rebel Angels are a four-piece combo from New York that sneer at the constriction of conventional labels like rockabilly, rock and roll, soul, country, rhythm and blues—instead preferring to merge the best aspects of all these styles into one brilliant band. They are fronted by the Titian-tressed, guitar-slinging rocker Laura Rebel-Angel who is not surprisingly influenced by the greats such as Etta James and Wanda Jackson. There is, however, a more punkier and garage history which has appropriately seen her called the "Queen of NYC Rockabilly" by Time Out New York. Laura Rebel Angel formed the band in 2011, joined soon thereafter by lead guitarist and co-songwriter Brian Hack. Together they forged the dynamic and diverse sound that now sees the release of their latest album, "Hitch Hike". Opening track "Sizzle" sees the band coming out of the gates with a bang. It's a fast paced Rockabilly song with a great call of "Let's Go" which is appropriate as it will wake you up and get you going from the start. The title is also appropriate as both the music and the vocals are hot. This style of full speed ahead, quality rock n roll is evident on numerous songs on this album, including "When I'm With You", "Let It Rain" and "Wild Side". Importantly, whilst these songs are fairly traditional in style they are certainly not old or staid. The band manages to add a vibrancy and urgency which keep the songs sounding fresh and relevant.
In contrast, on "Hitch Hike" the band shows they can slow things down and add a more sultry approach. On this song, it still builds up to a form a cool, laid back rock n roll song. One of the best songs on the album is "May Day' which has a great drums and vocals opening. Given the style of music and the female vocals, it is perhaps not surprising to hear echoes of Imelda May in this song. It is still Rockabilly but has more of a modern, pop groove to make a great song. Similarly "I Don't Want to Fight" is a slower ballad which is reminiscent of Devil Doll as it is more dark, seductive and sultry. The darker side to the band is also demonstrated by "Savage Stomp" which has a more aggressive feel to it with it's rumbling bass and a more intense sound to the whole song. "My Sweet Boy" soon adds a bit more light to the album, as it's a simpler and more upbeat song. Then comes "Bumble Bee" which in one song is a really good mixture of the bands different styles. It has a darker and edgier sound but then moves in to a more light, upbeat bridge. It also has some great vocals and not sure you will ever hear the words "Bumble Bee" sung in a more seductive tone!
There is the addition of a Harmonica on "Wont Be Told' and again the Imelda May comparisons are more evident. It has the same good time, pop rockabilly feel to it and is really upbeat, energetic and most importantly fun. Final track "Saved" adds a gospel feel to the backing vocals which matches the sense of redemption that is expressed in the lyrics. Having said that, the pace of the song and the passion in the voice would seriously cause you to question if they have really been 'saved'!
This really is an excellent album, as it contains a really strong core of great songs that will appeal to both old school Rockabilly fans but also has the strength and modern feel to attract newer fans to the genre. The success of people like Imelda May and JD McPherson have certainly demonstrated there is a market for this kind of stuff and given the right push it can even break through to the wider commercial masses. There is certainly enough evidence that with the right promotion and perhaps support slots, the Screamin Rebel Angels could go very far indeed. Review by Paul Hastings
Two Cow Garage - Death of Self Preservation Society
Two Cow Garage are one of those bands who have never quite hit the height they deserve in their US homeland, let alone over here in the UK. It's true that their brand of punked up Americana may not be as popular a genre over here, which is a real shame. For new comers it may therefore be a shock to learn this is actually their sixth album. On the positive side this means there is a huge back catalogue for new fans to check out after they have listened to this album.
This CD actually opens with quite a shock as "The Little Prince and Johnny Toxic" is a fierce opening number with a lot of feedback which then morphs in to a driving guitar line. The vocals then kick in, along with a sense of relief that the band have still retained their sense of melody. As a statement of intent, however, this opener suggests that Two Cow Garage are going to kick ass on this album. This feeling is maintained with "Geri" (we can only hope this isn't in honour of Ms Halliwell!) which is closer to punk rock rather than Americana. The sound takes more of a good time feel with "Stars and Gutters" which, with it's refrain of "are you growing up or just growing old?" is an ode to youth. They then move on to "Pantomime" which is actually just a big rock song. It sees the band edging towards a more commercial sound with even a hint of a more Gaslight Anthem type feel. This is a song which really could be played on U.S. rock radio. This is a flavour which is also shown on "Van Gogh" which has a real authentic Rock N Roll feel to it. However, as demonstrated on "My Friend Anthem", whilst they are easily able to knock out a full blown rock song, they still manage to never sound polished or contrived. Instead, they always retain a raw feel to their sound and this gives it an important edge.
That's not to say they are not able to slow things down as well. "Mantle in '56" offers some respite from the fast pace rock n roll and it is really rare to find a band so good at easing off the pace and confidently delivering a more heartfelt/tender number. Coming in at three minutes and forty two seconds, it is almost an epic song for this album. The other slower track on the album is "Spiralling Into Control" but again we are not talking about a sloppy ballad but more a heart string pulling lament. As a total alternative, "Lost On Youth" has an incredibly "poppy" opening with ooh oohs and then hand claps. However, don't panic though as it's a brilliant song built for playing at high volume in your car. If you're feet aren't tapping when listening to this then chances are you are dead! It also has a great mid song break built for crowd participation. Aptly it is followed by "Annie Get Your Gun", which builds up the intensity again. In fact it is in some ways the A typical Two Cow Garage Song as it is a punk version of a country song which is appropriate given it's title. The whole album then ends with the title track which is a raucous and fitting finale.
As already stated, Two Cow Garage can be placed in the category of hugely under rated bands along with Marah and Lucero. This album does, however, represent a step forward for the band where incredibly they have managed to move in two separate directions at the same time. It manages to be both more punk but also more commercial as well. Importantly, they have in no way sold out but hopefully it may also see them increase their exposure and achieve some commercial success, to go along with the critical praise. The majority of the tracks come in at under three minutes, just like all punk rock n roll songs should. This will hopefully be the album which will see an increasing number of new fans who will then go on to devour their brilliant back catalogue. Review by Paul Hastings
THINGS ARE GETTING A BIT HEAVIER....
Kawabata Makoto’s Mainliner – Revelation Space
The mysterious Japanese psych rock band Kawabata Makoto’s Mainliner return with new album ‘Revelation Space’ delivering a completely jaw dropping forty eight minutes. The opening title track literally rips the rule book to shreds on song structure and balanced recording, preferring to annihilate the ear drums through feedback induced, distorted chaos. Imagine Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell turning up at the studio to find Jimi and producer totally off their tits, deciding to press on regardless and see what transpires from a drug fuelled haze. You get the picture.
The rhythm section of Kawabe Taigen and Shimura Koji maintain hypnotic beats deep within the mix, Taigen also provided vocal wails, while Kawabata Makoto cranks his ‘motorpsycho’ guitar up to the max, projecting a constant staccato tirade of aural squalls. This should be unlistenable, but something won’t allow you to leave, dragged further and further into the sonic morass. “D.D.D” suggests a more recognisable construction, immediately apparent where the likes of Bo Ningen gained influence.No let up throughout, the album closes with twenty minute plus psychedelic marathon and it’s no real surprise there’s confusion surrounding the exact dates of recording or that Kawabata Makoto resides in a mountain top temple / studio. Revelation Space is from another world, another dimension, there’s every chance played loud enough, alien contact of the third kind could be instigated. Review by Andy Barnes
Sleeper’s Awake – Transcension
Sleeper’s Awake are one of several current bands that continue to drive progressive music to new heights, and have certainly set the bar with their second album, Transcension. This is a unique, majestic, Magnum Opus of progressive metal and hard rock that displays not only an impressive level of musicianship, but an ingenious ability to combine the band’s evidently diverse influences into an original and outstanding album as well. At seventy minutes long, Transcension is clearly the product of a great deal of hard work, and it certainly pays off. The Auger and Burdened demonstrate a bright, energetic lead style and thumping rhythms, recalling Mastodon’s boisterous approach in places. Vocalist Chris Thomson’s clean delivery shows influence from Tool’s James Maynard Keenan, utilizing youthful, wavering melodies to produce an air of somber longing.
Apparition takes the band into stormier waters with magnificent, churning riffs. Slave Within has Thompson alternating between a sympathetic, gentle tone and a leviathan growl; his versatility continues to do wonders throughout the album. Interludes Heathen Verses and Wintertide provide much needed rest from the extended compositions elsewhere on the album; these are soft, simple pieces, effectively gentle winds after and before the wild storms.
Other highlights are the instrumental Circles without Division, and Equa Mortuorum, which best demonstrate how well the band member’s respective abilities blend with each other; Transcension is not a vehicle for anyone’s virtuosity, but a seamlessly collaborative work of art. Under Hoof and Gravel, another instrumental, is my favorite track on the album, a beautiful musical achievement held together by a memorable, somehow emotive, slow tempo riff. Finally The Fulcrum completes the album by presenting more of the band’s talent for melding their collective creativities into progressive musical majesty, and one feels as one does after listening to any great piece of music: that not one minute was wasted.
Sleeper’s Awake have put out a masterpiece with Transcension, and deserve to ascend out of obscurity and into the realms of progressive metal royalty; they certainly have the talent. Review by Stuart Kristensen
Lord Dying – Summoning the Faithless
Portland, Oregon’s Lord Dying released their debut LP, Summoning the Faithless on July 9th. It’s an attractive piece of work; the cover art is marvellous and some of the song titles provide considerable entertainment on their own (Frightful State of Gnawed Dismemberment, Perverse Osmosis). But the music here is just as striking.
Summoning the Faithless is dirty stuff. The opening title track has guitarists Olsen and Evans emerging immediately from the swampy sludge and attacking head on with sharp riffs of rusty metal. This leads to an oppressive, doom-laden chorus; the tone of the album is set. It finds it’s niche somewhere between doom and hard rock, although some of the riffs have thrash mannerisms. Descend Into Eternal has traces of Slayer, while Dreams of Mercy is a chug-laden, fist-pumping hard rock anthem. Perverse Osmosis is a darker, more malevolent mixture, with huge, abrasive vocals and a stomping rhythm, while album closer, the intriguingly titled What Is Not… Is finishes the album with distorted guitar malice, pinch-harmonics and twisted riffs abound.
Each track is as savage as the one before it. Rhythm team D. Capuano (bass) and J. Reid (drums) form a filthy sonic foundation that gallops and grinds throughout, most evidently on Dreams of Mercy. The vocals are all fiery dragon-breath, constantly threatening to ignite the noxious sludge fumes below, while demonic guitar leads wail away furiously. There is a definite colourful vibrancy to it all that sets Lord Dying apart from their contemporaries. What makes the album enjoyable more than anything else is the sense one gets that the members are having a blast in every song, giving it their all. Lord Dying, as clearly expressed in their online bio, don’t really care about “out-sludging” or “out-dooming” anyone. They do their own thing, and they do it well. Summoning the Faithless is a fun, grinding speed-sludge maelstrom. Recommended to the utmost degree. Review by Stuart Kristensen
Black Sabbath – 13 (Vertigo and Republic Records)
In case anyone had forgotten that Black Sabbath are the original masters of heavy metal, 13 will serve as a good reminder. The album, the band’s 19th LP, is helmed by veteran producer Rick Rubin, who knows his heavy metal history like the back of his own hand. Rubin aimed to help Iommi, Geezer and Ozzy return to their Paranoid roots, and that task has been pulled off so convincingly that one would be forgiven for thinking 13 was snatched out of a secret time capsule from the seventies.
The album follows the Paranoid blueprint closely, without turning into a stale copy. Starting off with an eight-minute song is ambitious, but the band pulls it off just as well as they did over forty years ago with War Pigs. In interviews, Geezer and Ozzy described 13 as being much more hard rock oriented than heavy metal, but an elephant heaviness shakes the ground as soon as Iommi strikes the album’s first power chord, making it perfectly clear that Sabbath mean brutal business. End of the Beginning progresses marvelously, kicking into high-gear after the doomy intro to deliver an empowering, rebellious hard rock punch that few other musicians in their sixties could come even close to matching. At this point, it’s pretty clear that the band is still capable of delivering the goods. Even Ozzy.
If you haven’t heard it yet, God Is Dead? is a very strong track that will make a great addition to Sabbath’s catalogue of classics. Friedrich Nietzsche’s image on the single’s cover art indicates that this song is a bit deeper than what some might have expected to be a clichéd, belligerent Kerry King anti-religious rant; this is indeed proved to be the case, with Ozzy moaning out in a state of personal crisis, the horrors of the world bringing him to question the existence of God and, perhaps, the value of life itself. It’s a fantastic and fresh song, with a strong, memorable, and darkly melodic chorus; it also happens to be the album’s longest at 8:52, further proving the band’s continuing capability for writing hulking, yet smooth and coherent songs of epic length.
The album, surprisingly, never lets up. The acoustic Zeitgeist is 13’s own Planet Caravan, musically and lyrically similar enough to be a direct sequel. Age of Reason is one of the very best tracks 13 has to offer. Its main riff is simple, yet massively, epic, easily standing among Iron Man, Heaven and Hell, and Paranoid as one of Iommi’s greatest riffs. The subtle addition of gothic choir vocals into the mix is a smart move on Rubin’s part, giving the song an atmosphere of divine power. Reason also is the album’s most metallic tune, showcasing a truly headbang-able, hammering mid-section riff and a blazing solo. “Oh yeh” indeed, Ozzy. Damaged Soul gets Sabbath back to their heavy blues roots with awesome, uber-heavy and super-cool guitar. Iommi demonstrates a mastery of guitar tone here that will impress even long-time fans, whipping out smoking, bluesy leads that recall Stevie Ray Vaughn; not bad for an old man recovering from lymphoma! Geezer Butler’s fingers are as strong as ever, wrapping bass riffs around Iommi’s guitar to form the thick sonic double-helix that earned Sabbath their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yes, classic Sabbath drummer Bill Ward is sorely missed. But Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine does a fine job filling in, smoothly accentuating Sabbath’s iconic doom sound without any stylistic confliction. It is a masterpiece, through and through, defiant, energetic, huge, and triumphant. Considering the age of the members, the inconsistency of their careers, the health scares, and the split with Bill Ward, the album isn’t just a complete success: it’s a miracle. With it, Sabbath have revitalized their relevance to a modern audience and restored their legacy to its former glory.
The album closes with the sound of church bells, just as Sabbath’s debut began. Whether Sabbath choose to record another album or not, 13 gives the impression of a grand finale, and it would certainly be a perfect way to finish the band’s legendary career. It simply could not be any better than it is. Review by Stuart Kristensen
Coffins – The Fleshland
The globalization of metal, in all its different styles, is becoming more apparent than ever these days, with excellent groups hailing everywhere from France to Assyria on the rise. Japanese sludge/death metal band Coffins release their latest LP, The Fleshland, on July 9th via Relapse Records, thus reminding the world of Japan’s significance in the metal community and the decreasing territorial barriers between sub-genres.
The Fleshland is a monolithic, inexorable horror-sludge monster. It’s bookended by wonderfully bleak atmospherics, the demonic groaning, whispering, and unnerving squishes of a Sam Raimi film. Here Comes Perdition electrifies the post-apocalyptic sonic landscape with massive, gut-grinding guitar. The suitably fiendish, flesh-hungry vocals bolster the horror ambience, resulting in a very complete listening experience. As with much doom and sludge metal, some of the songs drag on for a bit too long, getting lost in their own filth. But Coffins manages to mostly keep things interesting with riff creativity and demented leads. The Vacant Pale Vessel is a particularly menacing, cruel track. Dishuman contains some of the album’s best and most malevolent riffs. The Unhallowed Tide slows the tempo down to a snail’s pace and sludges away ominously before the album’s final track, the ghoulish chant Tormentopia, a surprisingly fun, demonic party anthem from Hell.
The Fleshland is muddy, dark, horrific doom metal at it’s finest. A great new release from Coffins, and a fine addition to the collections of doom metal fanatics all over the world. Review by Stuart Kristensen
Noisem - Agony Defined
Baltimore’s Noisem release their debut LP, the appropriately named Agony Defined, on June 11th from A389 Recordings. These guys aren’t here to muck about; this is an uncompromising, hard-hitting thrash assault on the ears, stripped of any pop accessibility, production theatrics, ambitious composition or unnecessary effects.
The album’s attack is immediate and relentless, throttling the listener for a good twenty-seven minutes before finally releasing its grip. There’s a wonderful flow to it; the quick, slick, liquid-fast feel of classic thrash. Twin guitar soloing is frequent, and in fact becomes the album’s greatest asset. The title track’s leads are frighteningly ferocious, while having clever hints of melody, and someone clearly had fun with the whammy bar in Birthing the Bestial. Welcome to the Mortuary and Rotten Remains form a peak, making excellent use of evil trilling, rapid-fire tapping, mangled vocals, and everything else that composes the best thrash metal.
Youthful fury abound. There are clearly no weak links here, as drums, vocals, bass, and guitars are all equally driven and equally violent. The sheer ultra-violence is really very impressive and probably even a little shocking to those uninitiated to modern thrash (try Split from the Inside Out for one). There are no real standouts. The album has the unfortunate tendency to go in one ear and out the other. But perhaps this is by virtue of its sonic brutality; maybe an amnesia resulting from head injury. It’s undeniably solid and admirably vicious, almost primal and animalistic, in its approach.
Agony Defined is a bullet-storm of maniacal, speed-drunk thrash. If that sounds like your thing, then this wicked debut is a firefight worth getting caught in. Review by Stuart Kristensen