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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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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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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: Unwritten Pages – Pt 1. Noah (ProgRock Records, 2010)

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, of the Mars Volta, said of progressive rock: “We are really tired of those labels and questions. Concept album? How can any huge project that takes up most of your life for a year not have a concept?” and it’s fair to say that Unwritten Pages, too, is lifted straight out of the bedrock of conceptual progressive rock.

The conception of Frederic Epe, a vocalist and instrumentalist of seemingly boundless imagination, who has been able to group together some of the finest musicians working in Europe’s progressive rock scene to create debut album Noah, he has been living and breathing this project for the last 5 years, and true to progressive form, the album is dense, challenging and carries a tense conceptual sci-fi narrative.

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RETROSPECTIVE: Daft Punk – Discovery (Virgin 2001)

Everybody has an album that reminds them of their youth; an album which, when played, never fails to bring them back to another point in their life.

For me, Daft Punk‘s 2001 release, Discovery, is the album of my youth. To this day, opening dance masterpiece ‘One More Time’ remains one of my favourite all time tracks, due entirely to it’s energy and the power screaming out from it’s anthemic refrain. Even when I re-visit the album now I still feel as moved as I did the first time I heard it. I suppose that’s the sign of a truly great album; it continues to educate and surprise.

Two years after the release of their hugely influential debut Homework, Daft Punk set to work on a new album which they hoped would sonically encapsulate the idea of discovering and exploring life as a child. The resulting 14 track collection has a playful and more gentle feel to it than some of the more raw moments on Homework. Although trademark Daft Punk traits can be clearly heard throughout, such as the crisp 4/4 rhythm on tracks like ‘Face To Face’ and ‘Verdis Quo’, a more synth-heavy approach allows the album to gracefully flow through a number of themes and styles.

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PREVIEW: RightClickSaveAs

The last decade has been pretty good for indie music. The Strokes quintessential Is This It, released in 2001, wrestled control of rock music from the excesses of nu metal in the 90s, providing a taught, stripped-back lo-fi sound that reinvigorated indie music and set the ball rolling for bands like Interpol, The National, Kings of Leon, Razorlight, Bloc Party and many others in the subsequent years.

In the middle of the decade, bands like Interpol and The Killers integrated influences from the 80s – the formative decade for many artists today. Combined with the flourishing electro scene under Justice, Erol Alkan, Simian Mobile Disco and others, indie’s final integration with dance music was completed with Hot Chip’s The Warning in 2006, and the Klaxons’ Myths of The Near Future in January 2007. Since then, electro has been king, with artists like Friendly Fires finding their electronic side the more fruitful of their parent influences. So, ever wondered what glitchy electro-pop would sound like if it was done by just one man and his acoustic guitar? The answer is RightClickSaveAs.

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REVIEW: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns (2010 Saddle Creek)

With a name like The Rural Alberta Advantage and a début album called Hometowns you would be forgiven for expecting a folk/country band singing wistful indie folk tunes about where they grew up. However, although this Toronto-based three piece do sing songs about their home towns whilst playing acoustic instruments, this is not your typical country album.

Though there are some undeniably country influences on the album, what really makes it stand out are the drums. Paul Banwatt’s drumming is incessant and energetic and on many of the songs is at the centre of the mix, leading the songs in a way you don’t often hear.

But it’s not all about the drums, as they are wonderfully arranged alongside quirky synthesizers and twangy acoustic guitar, and these elements superbly accompany the rasping delivery of the heartfelt lyrics by Nils Edenloff.

There is an intensity and energy present throughout the album, whether it is in the fervent drumming on tracks like The Dethbridge in Lethbridge or in the absorbing, deeply personal, lyrics that regularly touch on the topics of love, loss and the feelings of broken-heartedness. Even when the tempo slows on tracks like The Air or Sleep All Day you can still feel the passion within the music, and in fact perhaps even more so.

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REVIEW: 3 Daft Monkeys – The Antiquated & The Arcane (3DM Records 2010)

Tim Ashton, Athene Roberts and Jamie Waters, otherwise known as 3 Daft Monkeys, have been working on their blend of Balkan, Celtic, reggae, Spanish, punk-infused folk for more than a decade now. They are, in a sense, the UK’s answer to the also superb American folk trio Nickel Creek, but though equally adept at crafting a heady mix of influences into folk songs, the 3 Daft Monkeys are also known for their ferocious and uplifting live shows.

Neither is it a mean feat for a folk band to have been as successful, not least because they have insisted on doing it without ever signing to a label. They have avoided mainstream attention and have committed to extensive touring and the hard work that goes along with it. It’s no surprise, then, to see their music developing with a bredth and maturity not often allowed in an industry that has grown used to bands, at the pressure of their labels, pumping out albums every 18 months.

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REVIEW: Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue (Nonesuch 2010)

Back in 2002, English novelist Nick Hornby published a collection of 31 short essays documenting how different songs have influenced his life. 31 Songs is a fascinating read; very well written, offering the reader a unique insight into the mind of a music lover and how his love of music can carry him through any hardship. Amongst the tracks chosen by Hornby to describe his life was Smoke by the alternative indie rock trio Ben Folds Five, which held the most resonance in the collection due to the subtle lyrical connotations depicting the breakdown of marriage. This appreciation fused a friendship between Hornby and Folds, resulting finally in 2010 with their collaboration, Lonely Avenue.

The album contains eleven tracks with all lyrical content written by Nick Hornby and all music performed by Ben Folds. This inspired marriage instantly gives the collection an intelligent narrative, enforced with a strong piano-led musicality, turning each song into a beautifully crafted short story. This quality can be found throughout the album, especially in the bitter-sweet ‘Picture Window’, the soulful character portrait of ‘Practical Amanda’ and the tale of childhood innocence in ‘Claire’s Ninth’, which was actually Hornby’s first ever short story. The most striking track on the album is ‘Doc Pomus’; a driving melody and rhythm referencing the 1960s songwriter, whose story provides this collaboration’s namesake.

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REVIEW: A Genuine Freakshow – Oftentimes (Peartree 2010)

Every now and then you come across a band that you think is truly something special, and this is exactly what happened earlier this year when I saw A Genuine Freakshow at the Frog and Fiddle in Cheltenham. It was a quiet night and the small crowd didn’t do justice to the quality of music on offer that evening.

Since then I have managed to see A Genuine Freakshow live once more at 2000 Trees festival, where, for me, they were one of the best acts of the entire weekend. However, as brilliant as they are live, when it comes to studio versions of their music we’ve had to settle with repeatedly listening to the four tracks available from their website. And so it was with bated breath that I awaited the release of A Genuine Freakshow’s début album, Oftentimes.

This seven piece from Reading add cello, violin and trumpet to the more traditional rock four piece and have influences that include Mogwai, Mew and Sigur Ros, all of which could lead you to think that Oftentimes would be a pure post-rock offering. But while these influences do inspire some post-rock tendencies, A Genuine Freakshow have a lot more to offer.

Tim Sutcliffe’s falsetto vocals and melancholy lyrics complement the grandiose feeling to the songs. The inclusion of the ‘classical’ instruments adds layers to create an overall sound of almost epic proportions that is very much at home in the post-rock genre. However, these tendencies are tempered by more technical pop stylings to create some unpredictable song structures and a sound that is fairly unique.