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THIS SUMMER....IS A BUMMER: NEW MUSIC REVIEWS FOR JULY 2012

Here we are another month packed with albums to review, of course we are unable to feature everything we get sent, and some are a little behind of their release dates, but still worthy of reviewing non the less. Lets kick off with Sharks, a great young band from Leamington Spa, who we had the good fortune to meet and see live in Manchester in recent months.
 

Sharks - No God’s

After five years of two EP’s, several tour dates supporting recognised acts, including dates in North America and even a compilation album, ‘Sharks’ have finally finished recording their first full record, ‘No Gods’, released at the start of April, recorded in Baltimore, MD.

The punk orientated band from Leamington Spa aren’t fresh faces to the scene, their experience and touring has enabled them to hit the ground running with their debut album. The accolades received from several of the music press on their two EP’s over the past years have made this full album a huge ‘must do’ if they are to elevate themselves to the next level, especially with the manifestation of quite a considerable fan base.

The album captures catchy lyrics with tasty riffs, combining fast paced alternative American style punk, like ‘Green Day’, with all the lyrical metaphorical ingenuities of British culture. There’s still an innocence and rawness to their sound which appeals to the values of the youth movement, but it’s far more structured than any band rushing their first shot at success. There’s a huge amount of energy and wholehearted passion put into each and every song that never falls below a level of an upbeat, bouncy and fun loving baseline that make the songs a coalition of anthemic and light hearted proportions. Despite its tag of “alternative”, and intelligent lyrics, there is a very chart/pop orientated feel to the songs, which tends to appeal to teenagers looking for some form of alternative music to rebel with, taking heed of its fast pace and heavier side of the marketable rock genre. A few bands of similar style have seen remarkable commercial success from this Americanised approach, and there’s no reason why ‘Sharks’ can’t follow suit. Having already toured and headlined in North America prior to the album release, they have a good base instilled ready for the launch with the hope of a platform to build upon in the future. The question is whether they want to be seen as a commercial success with a predominately younger fan base? The answer is that ultimately it may not be their choice.

Review by Nigel Cartner

[Mudkiss video of 'Sharks' live in Manchester]

Hypefactor – Descriptive: The Remixes

Inspired by electronic rock and signed to ‘Custom Made Music’, (whose creator Dave Allison founded ‘Last Remaining Pinnacle’, reviewed as our July album of the month) arises the New York City based workings of ‘Hypefactor’ and their EP, ‘Descriptive – The Remixes’, a sensational fabrication of the electronic underground scene in New York.

Initiators F.J. DeSanto and Brandt Gassman started the band over ten years ago and released a debut EP. After an eight-year hiatus of what they describe as “lost weekends and second guesses”, ‘Hypefactor’ returned in February 2011 with their first full-length album, ‘Exit Strategies’. From the success of that, they’ve been busy working in Brooklyn, New York and have conjured up a unique EP, which is a collection of different versions of one song titled, ‘Descriptive’. The track in its ‘single edition’ format is highly reminiscent and influenced by ‘New Order’. The tempo is steady and medium pace, just the correct amount to fully absorb the funky basslines and simmering keyboard play that provokes nostalgia as well as an uncontrollable urge to move coolly to the beat. More prominent and funkier basslines which add a more rhythmic, chilled vibe are present in the ‘Baye & Deckard’ remix, consisting of more notable female vocals. The Teff-Teff remix is the shortest of the lot and has a more sinister sense with the use of a piano played with single paused notes that adds to the ominous ambience. The other versions all mix variances in chilled electronica with the addition of tentative atmospheric sounds to create differing perceptions of the original version. All in all, this is a very eclectic variation on what is an excellent tune in its original format.

Review by Nigel Cartner

The Rifles – Freedom Run 

‘The Rifles’ return with their third album ‘Freedom Run’, an emotionally subtle inspired album filled with some solid instrumentals that’s very easy to listen to, creating a feeling of relaxation that shows a maturing in song writing. By all accounts, having not listened to their previous work, this record shows a change from a more edgier and upbeat approach in the past, which may or may not disappoint fans as there is a softer and gentler touch to this record than what I perceive to be in their back catalogue. Playing on the album sees the additions of close friends Lee Burgess and Kenton Shin, which may explain the change in direction, giving the band a renewed lease of enthusiasm that can sometimes jolt the creativity cells into a different overdrive. As a whole, ‘Freedom Run’ is very simple in nature and follows a very current feel to indie pop music with its pace and short stabbed guitar plucks. There’s nothing highly original or experimental, but they do the simple things well and sometimes that can be all that’s required to make the desired impression. The songs are finely structured and written with an element of blues and sombreness in the lyrics that isn’t always obvious to its tempo. On first listen you may be forgiven for thinking that they’re a fairly buoyant indie band, but on closer inspection and digging further into the words, you realise there’s a lot of lines and themes about love, from both sides of the fence, whether that be heart wrenching, or heart-warming, evident in opening track, ‘Dreamer’ which is about moving on but holding a deep regret that you couldn’t say the things you wished to say at the time.

The guitar is played in a very similar way on all tracks, holding the tempo with short stabs apparent throughout. However, there are interludes of little cool riffs in the background, that aren’t prominent in the recording process, remaining understated which is a strategy that suits the record’s laid back style. Most of the songs are alike in terms of themes and instrumental structure, although ‘Tangled Up In Love’ has a heavy keyboard influence starting with string arrangements, and ‘Eveline’ is acoustic with a country feel to its beginning. ‘Little Boy Blue’ stands out as the most experimental track on the album with a very tribal/jungle start and images of aborigines due to the didgeridoo playing in the background. The song then explodes into life with guitar and fast paced drums before slowing down to the original intro to create a cool, psychedelic and trance like vibe for what is an epically long track for an indie band.

The Rifles’ have been around for a while now, yet they still float under the radar in many cases. They’ve recently embarked on a number of fairly high profile headline gigs and festivals, and they still hold a core of adoring fans. Whether this album can lift them further is a question that probably still can’t be answered despite it being out now for nearly a year. Given its lack of originality and adoption of a similar approach to many other bands out there, I’d have to guess it won’t. But that’s not to say the album isn’t worthy, full of sentiment, creating deep judgements about attitudes and situations to relationships which make you float along as the tunes whisk you away into that sensitive state of a laid back mind.

Review by Nigel Cartner

A Place To Bury Strangers – Worship

In a world saturated by pop culture cynicism, the association between rock music and rebellion looking more and more like a bad joke with every decade, it seems to me that the gradual rise in the underground of what I call ‘rock band self harm’ can be seen as perhaps one of today’s most relevant trends.

‘Worship’ is an album at war with itself. Drums, guitars, bass and vocals compete violently for attention in a hostile environment of noise and grit. Traditional sounds are totally subverted – this is a challenge to, even a war on, the pop/rock medium itself. Screeching, frazzled guitars are yanked in and out of tune behind trashy drums; its a belligerent, volatile wasteland.

Under normal circumstances you’d have to give a lot of the credit to the production team, as APTBS’s originality owes a lot to this fascinating interpretation of the ultra-lofi production aesthetic. Except these guys did everything themselves, even the mastering. Pretty impressive, right?  Strongly defined by shoegaze and gothic, as well as industrial and noise rock, ‘Worship’ pushes new territory into the otherwise stale trajectory of post-punk, with all the sneer and menace you’d expect from, say, an early Bauhaus record left uncompromised (songs like ‘Revenge’ or ‘Why I Can’t Cry Anymore’ are not for the faint-hearted). This is a magnificent, well-balanced and truly authentic album that proves there is still mileage on the 80’s bandwagon.

Review by Lars

Piano Magic – Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet

In pitching for the ultra-emotive, it is possible for irony to cast a band in the quintessential lose-lose situation. Piano Magic, with their latest album, are treading on this kind of thin ice.

After having sacrificed much in the process of building a project for totally un-impeded reflection, Glen Johnson’s plaintive murmurings end up wide of their target - self-absorbed in almost perverse self-pity, they are mostly un-engaging and frankly, a little boring.

Around 2003-5, Johnson recast himself as a more traditional ‘singer-songwriter’, and has since been losing touch with the spectral, stony-faced atmosphere of early Piano Magic (and with it, a big interest factor). In its place he’s attempted to transplant more traditional values, a change that brought lucidity – not a quality you’d expect to work for them, but it did. Unfortunately Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet is anything but lucid.  Without recapturing the atmospheric depth they lost in the trade-off, the album comes across as a little unsure what it wants to achieve. That said, atmosphere is still a strong point here, and with its nihilist lyrics, chilling ambience and almost cruel austerity (perforating everything from physical space to the modest range of chords used), there is personality here, albeit low-voltage. If only they knew how to rock out.

Review by Lars

Emillie Autumn - Fight Like A Girl

Emilie Autumn’s new album is bonkers; all 17 tracks of it. Every single one of them is utterly, cartoonishly exaggerated to the utmost degree. She doesn’t do ballads; instead she does violin and tear drenched melodramas. She doesn’t do rock; she does hysterical rage tearing at the sound of doom. Entitled ‘Fight Like A Girl’, the album doesn’t so much pull hair and make bitchy comments, but grabs you by the neck and throttles you with its defiant unpredictability. Switching from angelic laments to fantasy Riot Grrrl, all topped off with enunciated vocals that sound a little Broadway musical. The theatrics continue with half-spoken narration and storytelling, as if Emilie’s racing against the clock to fit a whole gothic novel within the 3 minute time slot. ‘The Key’ and ‘Hell is Empty’ sound seriously like a Hollywood impression of witches cackling around a cauldron.

The title track, ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is an unflinchingly feminist anthem, with hints of a superhero theme tune about it, an attitude that runs through the album, not least so in the eccentric, Moulin Rouge tinted ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ Emilie simultaneously manages to adopt a juxtaposed cherubim persona in the twisted Fairy tale of ‘Time For Tea’  and the choric vocals ‘Goodnight, Sweet Ladies’, although both have something darkly cultish bubbling below the surface.

Emilie Autumn has something of an Alice in Wonderland character about her, all picturesque with a disturbing surrealism. Equally, she could be the willowy heroine from an animated Tim Burton film, or a robot, with her pulsating, manic shouts. ‘Scavenger’ suggests she might not even be human, with its beastly horror movie sound effects and animalistic wails of “I am a Scavenger”. Emilie Autumn is a master of disguise, with a carnival of fancy dress and a penchant for make-believe. This album, ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is a spinning roulette of the bizarre. But you can be fairly confident that wherever it stops, there’ll be something interesting to listen to.

Sharon King – Nothing = Everything

It’s easy to get folk wrong. Campfires, tweed and cable knit jumpers do not a folk outfit make. It’s even easier to get Celtic wrong, with more flavours of Guinness and leprechauns than the Irish tourist board. Not even mentioning the fact they’re actually Scottish. That’s why it’s so impressive that Sharon King and The Reckless Angels have got it just right.

The album ‘Nothing = Everything’ is out mid-July. Whilst, as an equation, it’s not mathematically accurate, as an album it’s musically beautiful. It’s not going to set any indie discos alight in the near future, but it’s the kind of music that Amy Macdonald filtered, distilled and make a killing with.  ‘I Lay Here With You’ is something of a diversion in the album’s course of action. With its misty, tender vocals that practically melt over the almost transparent music, it’s the least traditional of all the tracks on the album, and is possibly the point in proceedings where the majority of the band goes to put the kettle on.  At 1 minute 50 seconds, it’s a haunting and memorable blip on ‘Nothing = Everything’. It’s seemingly unimpressive nature, yet impressive effect goes some way to prove Sharon King’s logic behind the album’s title. In contrast, ‘Travelling Ways’ is as near as you can come to your initial expectations of a Scottish folk band that doesn’t involve bagpipes. Its finger picking introduction leads you into a false sense of security that is soon quashed by melancholy and occasionally optimistic lyrics and a velvety smooth string part, possibly on the part of a fiddle. It’s A Beautiful Day’ picks up the pace slightly, with intricate instrumentals and a distinctly upbeat melody. The lyrics are predictably about sunshine induced hedonism, with nice weather resulting in frolicking and drinking and late nights, but on the backdrop of The Reckless Angels’ timeless music, the well-used formula is given a new lease of life.

‘Nothing = Everything’ could be an alternative sedative. Whilst all things calm and tranquil have their merits, the album’s missing some of the emotive lung-stretching songs that Sharon’s voice could easily do justice to. That said, adrenaline pumping, pub jigging music is not what they’re going for. What they’ve achieved is subtly beautiful Celtic music, without even a wee dram of cliché.

Review by Lucy Holt

Agnostic-Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy - Campfire Tales

Apparently Agnostic-Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy are from Canada. This can be verified through several social media outlets, yet it seems unlikely for two reasons. The first being that Canada’s biggest musical export is Justin Bieber, closely followed by Celine Dion. The second reason is that it’s hard to believe that Agnostic-Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy (or APRBC for efficiency) come from an actual geographical location on planet earth.

The album ‘Campfire Tales’ is an aggressive concoction of blues rock with growling vocals. ‘Magpie & Skunk’ opens with thundering piano and all the angst of a power ballad but takes a swift diversion into an unignorable country riff and howling. ‘Respected’ could be the soundtrack to a barn dance. If said barn dance was located in a disaster movie. With all its unintelligible grunting, the overall effect is that of an intimidating wall of noise, but the intricate instrumentals suggests it’s precisely crafted below the surface. ‘Windigo Song’ is a contender as the fastest, angriest of all the tracks. Whist on its own it would be a memorable feat of musicianship and passion on the part of APRBC, in the context of the album, the listener become desensitised by its location on an album of predominantly fast, angry songs.

The eleven track album is a test of strength and stamina for both band and listener. However, there are moments of a slightly more serene nature on the album. ‘Blind Ghost Moan’ is a progressive slow burner. With its distant vocals and twangy guitars, it could easily come from the showdown scene in a Western cowboy film.  ‘Who Fears The Devil’ also allows for a little breathing space. Continuing in the albums theme of dystopia, destruction and darkness, its nature is a little less obvious than that of its fast-paced furious album companions. The pained, rich vocals have a somewhat sinister side. At the risk of putting my foot in it, or harming international relations, the Canadian album has America written all over it, taking inspiration from folk, country, blues, saloon bars and Hollywood movies. The title Campfire tales promises mellow marshmallow melting acoustic ditties. Don’t be fooled. With Agnostic-Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy you’re in for elemental, mental, apocalyptic alt-rock.

Review by Lucy Holt

The Guillemots – Hello Land

Do not adjust your monitors, hearing aids, sonar devices and/or other audio equiptment. This really is Guillemots. Fyfe Dangerfield’s back from his trip to the bank via John Lewis, has re-joined forces with the band to produce a new album, and it’s all gone a bit weird. Or rather, it’s all gone back to a bit weird. After dabbling in the pop realm, like a pirate spotting land after a long voyage ‘Hello Land!’ is a comforting return to the uncomfortable. Their feet are planted firmly on uneven terrain.

‘Nothing’s Going To Bring Me Down’ has a deceptively optimistic title. From a ghostly opening with quivering vocals, it swirls into an orchestral conclusion. Dangerfield’s usual melodic belting vocals are not present, instead the void is filled with high pitched calling which only adds to the unsettling effect. ‘Spring Bells’ is also somewhat pushing it in the accurate title stakes. As pathetic fallacy goes, it’s less spring and more of drizzly Tuesday in April. Minimalistic in its lack of vocals or clearly defined instruments, it seems to blend together in a simmering cauldron of sound. The overall effect is a little like Fry playing the holophonor on Futurama. This can only be a good thing. ‘Fleet’ is a rare moment of sunny pop on the album, but never has such an extensive array of instruments sounded so subtle and distant. The chorus is a radio friendly bundle of jangly bliss. It’s the most single-shaped offering on the album, yet still sounds slightly unearthly. ‘I Lie Down’ utilises the male/female harmony to its upmost dreamy effect, with spiralling crescendos and barely-there echoes of vocals, it’s Guillemots doing shoegaze. There’s something in the water currently that’s making whispery, watery and shoegaze bands flood the music scene at the moment. Guillemots manage to pull it off without it diluting the music though.

It’s fairly evident that ‘Hello Land!’ won’t feature on an insanely lucrative viral tear-jerking ad campaign any time, neither will it be selling you kettles and crockery, or climbing to the dizzy heights of the charts.  However, the album is an advert for how good Guillemots are when they’re not churning out hits.

Review by Lucy Holt

The High Commissioners - Studies

Although stimulated initially by an acoustic version of "Maybe You're Wrong" via Youtube, to completely appreciate the glorious nature of The High Commissioners, requires the full electric majesty offered through the debut album "Studies."  Listen no futher than opening track "Sleep When You're Dead," throbbing bass intro, rich soulful gravelly vocals and chiming guitars preclude three minutes of blues infused riffs, licks, drops and breakdowns. It's said, blues can't just be played, it has to be felt, the Anglo French four piece proving exactly that, the authenticity of "All Day Long' " evoking sweat drenched images of Mississippi Delta swamps, rather than North London or Paris .

Although pursuing a traditional path, 60' and 70's influences apparent, The High Commissioners carve a thoroughly modern edge into their psychedelic musings, admittedly on occasion perhaps becoming overtly whimsical in nature, Will Hanley's stunning vocal range working best without ethereal effects, band providing raw, unfettered encouragement. "Maybe You're Wrong," a prime example, Hanley's delivery sits within Jamie N Commons territory, providing a similar, "Where the hell did that voice come from" effect, based on youthful appearance. It would appear the quartet split their time between the South of England and Northern France although blues music this pure and visceral designed to be played live, completely apt for travels far and wide. Surely The High Commissioners will soon establish an ever widening audience.

Incredibly, "Studies" is available as completely free download at the bands website, a mere click away. Hit the link below now and enter The High Commissioners sonically beguiling world. http://highlycommissioned.co.uk/index.html

Review by Andy Barnes

Heaven’s Jail Band - Angelmaker

With debut full length "Angelmaker," Heaven's Jail Band provide an abject lesson in taking the country rock outline defined by a Big Star, Neil Young, Tom Petty, early Eagles etc, while delivering a darker, sleazier journey through America's underbelly, offering both a riveting and slightly disturbing listen.  Utilising both raw musical and lyrical edge, they sit contrastingly at odds alongside Francesco Ferorelli's placid, calm vocal delivery, giving an opening line like "My footsteps on the gravel, sound like crunching little skulls" an even more sinister edge.

Songs throughout utilise spacious chord structures, traditional lead and trundling distorted rhythm sitting side by side, although more claustrophobic elements infiltrate, both guitars exploiting tighter, complex patterns, intermingling whilst fighting for supremacy as “Sleep Outside” closes or throughout “Speak Lovely Chaos” the  album’s broodingly ominous highlight.   

My only (miniscule) criticism, on occasions after a soundscape of guitar soloing bliss becomes established, aforementioned “Chaos” or “Trees Like Trees” are subsequently brought abruptly to a close. While not suggesting an epic wig out of “Freebird” or “Green Grass and Hide Tides” proportions, extension by thirty seconds or even a minute of additional six string interplay appears an opportunity squandered. Perhaps live, more elongated versions may transpire. The music of Heavens Jail Band doesn't fit an America of rhinestones, spotless wide brimmed stetsons or gilt edged stars on pavements, instead suiting grubby motels, trailer parks and Brooklyn back alleys. Tough and uncompromising, exactly as it should be.  "Angelmaker" can be streamed and downloaded from the Heaven's Jail Band bandcamp page. http://theheavensjailband.bandcamp.com/

Review by Andy Barnes

Thanks to Nige, Lars, Lucy, Andy for this months contributions...more to be added shortly.