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REVIEW: Imperial Leisure – The Art of Saying Nothing (2008 Universal)

Music can very much be a mood thing. People have songs they listen to when they feel down or ones that remind them of a special time. Another common theme is the going out or getting ready tune, that song you listen to as you leave the drudgery of work behind and head into the weekend. Since first stumbling across them at 2000 Trees in 2009, one band has been the sound track to my descent into debauchery more than any other and that band is Imperial Leisure.

When I caught them at 2000 Trees, it was the middle of the afternoon, they sounded interesting from their description in the program and we settled down in the field to check them out. We weren’t sat down for long; the band’s ska punk offerings had us skanking almost immediately. The tunes were infectious, the lyrics so catchy that you found yourself singing along to choruses of songs you’d never heard before. It was such a lively, energetic and memorable performance that I went looking for their material as soon as I returned home. What I found was the band’s début album The Art Of Saying Nothing, which has recently been added to Spotify.

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REVIEW: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011 Universal-Island Records Ltd)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Let-England-Shake/dp/B004KEOQJ8/ref=dm_cd_album_lnkI guess you guys already know PJ Harvey, but I only just listened to her for the first time with her most recent album, Let England Shake. I was browsing the earliest reviews of Radiohead’s newest offering, a couple of weeks back, and one user comment on Metacritic said something like, “This is crap, like every other recent release by Radiohead, just electronic experimental bollocks. If you liked what they used to do when they were good, check out PJ Harvey’s new album.” Although I disagreed that Radiohead has gone downhill since the days of OK Computer and The Bends, I thought I’d listen to his suggestion anyway.

And I’m glad I did. This is a great album with easy comparisons to Laura Marling, Cat Power or Taken By Trees. But I guess these women were probably, at least to an extent, influenced by her earlier work. I don’t know though. As I said I’d never listened to her before and I haven’t yet delved into her back catalogue except in reading about her work with Thom Yorke and Nick Cave. So, I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into some of that soon. For the moment though, I’ll just enjoy listening to this with my naive ears, which is nice.

PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder

Also, if you like this, then maybe check this out: papercranes – Let’s Make Babies In The Woods. It’s pretty good too.

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REVIEW: Heinali & Matt Finney – Conjoined (2010 / Paradigms Recordings 2011)

Having reviewed Rumour Cubes latest EP last week and outlining my own troublesome reactions to post-rock, a new record came to my attention: Conjoined, the latest release from composer/spoken word-duo Heinali & Matt Finney.

Had I heard this record before, I may have understood my cognitive dissonance about post-rock a little better. For this dark, heavy, brooding monolith of doomgaze (not a term I coined, but utterly perfect and not a jot over-the-top) could not embody cognitive dissonance any more; paranoid, claustrophobic, and infinitely intriguing.

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REVIEW: TesseracT – One (Century Media Records, 2011)

Newsflash! Djent is going mainstream – and people are pissed. You’re probably asking ‘Why are people pissed?‘ or, more likely, ‘What is Djent?‘. Our story starts almost a decade ago.

Firstly, Meshuggah did something very important indeed when they nailed the ever-increasing technical element of their brutal thrash metal on 2002’s Nothing – a record whose ‘poly-rhythmic’ chops, synonymous with more out-and-out ‘prog’ groups like The Mars Volta, became something infinitely heavier: you put it over straight drum patterns people can follow, and groove metal is born. Suddenly those ‘pretentious’ and off-kilter rhythms are just a means to discover syncopation, to hang guitar lines over steady beats and draw out the very essence of groove. THAT is heavy.

About the same sort of time, home recording technology took off, allowing a new generation of guitarists, influenced by Meshuggah, to start really playing around with these new grooves, rearranging drums parts and guitar lines endlessly, and to swap them with the growing online community at a rate of knots.

But why ‘djent’? Well, to make sure the whole thing doesn’t get sludgy and unlistenable, guitarists found they really needed to choke their guitar sounds. A consequence of this was that your usual metal power chord ends up sounding, quite literally, as a ‘DJENT, DJENT, DJENT!’. Nowadays, Djent stands for that genre of music that keeps the guitars tight, is heavily syncopated, and was probably heard online about 7 years ago.

And there, too, is the reason why people are pissed. Periphery managed to really make the big time with last years self-titled album (all the material of which was available online for donkeys years), and at a similar time, Animals As Leaders released their self-titled album seemingly out of nowhere. People are now expecting Djent to move on, but what they’re getting is a number of bands releasing that first lot of material they heard back in ’04.

Tesseract release their debut album One with opinion really split. Those that love the sound are right behind it, but you’ll find a number of people out there complaining that the material is old (not helped by vocalist changes and problems getting a label to release on). Well, no more! Let it be said right here – Tesseract are fully entitled to release the material on this album, because not only is it an exceptional body of work, nobody gets close to pulling off the atmospherics found on One.

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REVIEW: Rumour Cubes – We Have Sound Houses Also

 

There’s something about Post-rock. I don’t know what it is. Somehow, I both love it and hate it. It’s both one of my favourite genres, and one I find most easy to deride. For instance (and post-rock purists are really going to hate me now), I can rarely tell my Mogwai from my Explosions In The Sky. It’s all just reverb guitars, rolling structure and no vocals (it really is though). Yet, and perhaps because of these limitations, when it works, it has the potential to be life-affirming – Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada is a seminal release. Mogwai’s recent Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and in particular tracks like White Noise, show why the genre works, why it continues to intrigue, and why it doesn’t get boring.

So new post-rock outfits sort of have it tough in trying to win me over – it has to triumph over its uniquely chastened stylings and be something quite startling indeed. With the three songs on Rumour Cubes self-produced EP We Have Sound Houses Also, triumph they have.

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REVIEW: The Streets – Computers And Blues (Atlantic Records, 2011)

Mike Skinner is back with his fifth and final hurrah under his moniker The Streets, with Computers And Blues, and the premise of being a more ‘Ravey’ reflective and evaluation of life at “Street Level”.

From the offset, Skinner positively demonstrates his intent to stretch the boundaries of musicality with the strangely syncopated and electrified introduction to opening number Outside Inside, combined with the ever-familiar, casually poetic style flowing tamely alongside the sporadic melody. Going Through Hell features a catchy ear-worm chorus and an almost obnoxious and leary driven thumping backing track.

Sadly though, the better tunes look to have already passed and the rest of the album seems to lose its way, with the next tracks failing to deliver or cover any significant new ground in its material content, sometimes seeming to have to resort to repetition to get the across the themes in the subject matter. Skinner has opted to stretch his poetic abilities with the use of more abstract metaphors which, often overused, actually hinder empathy with the lyrical content.

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REVIEW: Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam (Brownswood, 2011)

A ghostwriter is someone who writes for and gives credit of authorship to another. A ghostpoet, we can infer, is that specific kind of ghostwriter whose work takes on a more creative, flowing, literative interpretation of events. Calling yourself Ghostpoet is actually pretty clever. It draws the focus on the music and not the musician, on the art and not the artist. It tells us to view the artist only as the pen, putting things together for the sake of the content, not the sake of the writer. It draws on the numinous of creativity, rather than the identity of it.

Also, it’s a pretty cool name.

It’s this juxtaposition between heady artistry and down-to-earth easiness that Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam presents us with. If he’s the ghostwriter, you’re the fence.

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Features Reviews

Autumn Tone Records

It’s amazing how you sometimes stumble across treasure by accident.

At the height of Autumn, whilst wistfully day dreaming and listening to music in my room, I considered what sounds and music best represented the leafy season. In my curiosity, I typed the words ‘Autumn sounds music’ into the search engine in the hope of finding perhaps a list of possible suggestions. Instead, what came up was a link to the recently established Autumn Tone Records, which was instantly intriguing. I set about exploring the site, and checking out the varied list of artists, until I was satisfied that it was exactly what I was looking for. I felt like a child who discovers a den whilst playing in the woods; an image quite fitting when considering the alternative and natural character to the music offered on Autumn Tone Recordings.

Following it’s creation in 2005 by the music blog Aquarium Drunkard , Autumn Tone Records, based in Los Angeles, has been host to a number of acoustic, indie, folk, harmonic, and rock outfits who have all been driven out of obscurity and into the public eye. Currently, at least ten artists are represented on the label’s main website and are all definitely worth a listen.

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REVIEW: Dreadzone – Scala, London, 8/12/2010

Photography by Mike Eccleshall

Dreadzone concluded their epic 27-date Eye On The Horizon winter tour this weekend, and I was there to catch their Scala show on Wednesday 8th. Frontman MC Spee might have been worried that a midweek set in the capital might not be the extravaganza it should always be, but gets it spot on when asking the crowd “do you get the feeling that Wednesday night turned into Saturday night about half an hour ago?”; tonight was a knees up, a celebration of Dreadzone’s incredible 15+ year career that had Scala bouncing all night long.

They set the tone early with Love, Life and Unity, showing that the material on offer this evening will stretch across the full span of their career. Ever eclectic, ever full of life and energy, they blaze through a spell-binding set encompassing every influence, every corner of Dreadzone’s sound. And though the crowd is a mix of both young and old (indeed, MC Spee took a particular shine to a young girl whose 21st birthday it was), everybody was onboard tonight, showing that Dreadzone’s ability to cross generations and cultures is absolute and has never waned.

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REVIEW: The Levellers – Subscription Rooms, Stroud 28/11/10

Before embarking on their huge tour next year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their album Levelling The Land, The Levellers have been warming up with a grass roots tour of smaller venues in towns away from the normal tour circuit. As such, I found myself at the Subscription Rooms in Stroud on a bitterly cold November evening where it was the crowd who needed to warm up first. Thankfully it wasn’t just me that had braved the cold and icy conditions as there was a lively sell-out crowd filling the venue this evening.

As the lights dim, the stage is bathed in a blue wash and a thumping bass track plays, building with the addition of some pipes as the band take to the stage and the track fades to be replaced with the sound of a fiddle, signalling the opening bars of England My Home, setting the tone for the rest of the evening, with the enthusiastic crowd getting more into the songs from the bands early albums than their more recent offerings.

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Is Tropical – South Pacific review + single giveaway!

Is Tropical. 2010 has been the year for Bandana-wearing punk-pop-electro. Having toured with Egyptian Hip Hop, Good Shoes and The Big Pink early in the year, Is Tropical then spent the summer recording their as-yet untitled debut album, signed for Kitsuné and then supported The Mystery Jets in their late Autumn UK tour. On 22 November they released the Kitsuné debut single South Pacific, and it’s a track that captures a summery, optimistic feeling in-keeping with the tracks name, the season it was created, and the growing momentum of the band.

Light, semi-glitchy and ultra low-fi beats, even the vocals are sketchy, giving the track, along with its jaunty synth lines, a childlike, innocent, unpolished feeling. There’s an ethereal, dream-like quality that makes it very easy to conjure images of sun, sea and sand, brightness and optimism. For a November release, this is about as summery as it gets.

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REVIEW: The Concretes – WYWH (Something In Construction 2010)

I first listened to The Concretes last year, as I worked backwards from their former singer, Victoria Bergsman, and her solo album East Of Eden, to their eponymous debut from 2004. Just as I had loved her album, I loved their work together as a group, but for very different reasons. The Concretes was a jangly pop mix of horns, strings and a sickly sweetness complemented by the accented, carefree, slightly odd vocal of Bergsman. Basically it was just really nice – and I don’t mean this as a put-down at all. It was like a musical equivalent of watching a decent feel-good film like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine or something. It was a cheerful listen that was surprising in how enjoyable it was.

Since then much has been made of Bergsman’s departure back in 2007 and the effect of that on their album of that year, Hey Trouble. Many people seem to think that the band is still struggling to work out what they’re doing without her, but this seems absurd to me. They replaced Bergsman immediately with then drummer, Lisa Milberg, who has a voice not dissimilar from her predecessor’s and except for this change the line-up has stayed largely the same. So, surely this shouldn’t have made too big an impact? Obviously I don’t know exactly what role Victoria had in the band and maybe she did tell them what they all had to do at all times so that without her they fell apart, but for whatever reason they have taken a different direction.

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REVIEW: 3 Daft Monkeys – 11/11/10 Gloucester Guildhall

Inflatable Buddha - image courtesy of Martin Svancar

I’d not heard much of 3 Daft Monkeys before we reviewed their latest self-released album The Antiquated & The Arcane a short while ago, but since then I’ve had the album on near-constant repeat and have fallen in love with their eclectic folk stylings. It was with some excitement, then, that I recently attended their gig at Gloucester’s Guildhall.

Arriving late due to a slight guestlist kerfuffle and having a bit of a chin-wag with an old friend in the bar, I missed the start of opening act Inflatable Buddha. It turns out that this was a major mistake on my part. Wandering in to find enigmatic poet/mandolin player Steve Larkin joking around with the crowd as naturally as if he were best of mates with everyone in the room, I was instantly hooked. Their particular brand of quirky folk punk was quite mesmerising to behold, a relentless energy surging from Larkin, and also double-bass player and co-vocalist Susannah Starling, through the remainder of their set. Particular highlights for me were ‘Clown’, a highly entertaining tail about a bi-polar, alcoholic circus worker which very clearly showcases the poetic nous that won Larkin 2004’s Spoken Word Olympics in Canada, and ‘Life Is Sweet’, which got the crowd well and truly warmed up through the liberal use of well-timed hoi‘s. A thoroughly enjoyable set, and I shall certainly be looking out for this 4-piece in the future.

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The Mystery Jets – 11/11/10 The Roundhouse

The Mystery Jets have had a good year. Off the back of their third album proper, Serotonin, in July, William Rees and Kai Fish made a guest appearance on The Count & Sinden’s hit track After Dark, which was a mainstay on dance/indie playlists for most of the late summer. Since then, they’ve been on tour literally non-stop since mid-September, playing 38 European gigs since starting off with a double-header at New York’s Mercury Lounge on 14/15 September. They bring this mammoth tour to a close with a home-coming gig at London’s Roundhouse tonight, with signs of tiredness starting to set it.

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REVIEW: Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer (Radiculture/Elektra 2010)

For an artist with so many hit records and singles, Cee Lo Green is a name that has only recently become ingrained in the public’s consciousness. Known to some for his work as a founding member of hip hop group Goodie Mob, to others for his collaboration with DJ Danger Mouse in Gnarls Barkley, and to everyone else for the ridiculously popular ‘Fuck You’ (aka ‘Forget You’, it’s neutered brother), Cee Lo’s voice has been gracing our clubs, radios and YouTubes for a good long while now. We’re now 8 albums into Green’s expansive, 20-year career, and so it comes as no surprise that with all of this experience his new album The Lady Killer is a mature, intelligent and highly polished record.

However, could the high production values and lack of grit take something away from the album? You see, Cee Lo has always been someone who works best when allowed to experiment and push the boundaries. His last two solo albums, 2002’s Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections and 2004’s Cee Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine might not have had the sheer polish and production of his latest, but they were genre-mashing, adventurous and downright exciting listens. They were warts-and-all insights into a thoroughly creative man who is a self-described freak, and his personality made these records worth listening to.

The Lady Killer is an album that has been crafted specifically to propel Green into the spotlight. He has mentioned that he wanted to create a more accessible album so that he would no longer be the “underground underdog”, and he has reigned in his eccentricities in order to avoid his creative output becoming a “kamikaze mission”. So, how has this affected his sound?