Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Issue 1.3 Record Reviews

For those that missed em, the record reviews from Issue 1.3

The Spills – Smoke Signals
Philophobia Music

I’m so glad to hear this record. Because I can now finally unburden myself of a terrible secret – I’ve never been a massive fan of The Spills. I’ve enjoyed their records certainly (especially the split with Piskie Sits a while back) and they’ve always entertained live… but a full on FAN? The sound was always a little too grunge indebted to me, it never quite engaged me on an emotional level. But before Wakefield as a mass entity turns and strikes me down; Smoke Signals is immense and it’s now official – I’m a fan, and then some.

The format of a five track EP has given them space to breathe. In a way, less is more, with the focus on the hooks in place of some of the former bluster. Opening track ‘Fish Eye Lense’ is stripped back beauty. Clean, gentle, barely strummed guitar and tender vocals, with delicate echo – I cross my fingers this isn’t the predictable quick 20 second intro to the usual fair. It’s not, they keep their nerve and keep it quiet - it’s a ballsy move and pays off massively. And then, by doing something totally unexpected, they remind you what was good about the band in the first place – ‘Holidays’ is noisy and exciting. It’s also the hookiest track they’ve ever done.

Rob Slaters vocals, and lyrics are put further to the fore than ever before and it pays off big time. The dynamics and structures of the songs are exquisitely natural, and brought out beautifully by the upfront but subtle production. Not sitting back on the loud quiet routines, but incorporating whole interweaving sections that never sound contrived. When a track clocks in over 4 minutes but feels like it’s lasted half the time, you know you’re onto a winner.

‘Teeth in a glass’ shows a mastery of anthemic Indie without resorting to dumb emotional signposting, the ‘everything is alright’ refrain sang with enough hint of disdain, and possible sarcasm to avoid triteness. But overall the feeling is of carefree abandon; real beams of sunlight cover this record. Sound wise there may still be hints of that grungy past (but more ‘questions and answers’ Biffy than Nirvana) but it is certainly not angsty. A strong, passionate vein of positivity runs through this EP. And it’s the balance between unashamed pop and aggressive, intelligent noise making that makes The Spills so special now. Where many bands would kill for hooks like these, but then use them to sing inane nonsense about getting pissed up and losing a girlfriend, The Spills have an edge and passion that surpasses such predictable and tired ideas. And more importantly, they just seem to be getting better and better. A very important step for a band that deserves to take them to a much larger audience. Dean Freeman

Secret Circuits – This Town EP
Self released

This EP sounds like a contrived mixture of euphoria and melancholia, in the vein of bands who have had success by virtue of their inoffensive blandness such as Editors and White Lies, with songs building up using rumbling bass with layers of trance keyboards being added. Lyrics are sung sparsely over the top of this in a forlorn fashion. At times there is also a Biffy Clyro influence. Sadly the songs lack the passion, time changes or gabba rhythms that make that band so good. Not something I would encourage anyone to listen to. David Cooper

Tender Trap – Dansette Dansette

Tender Trap’s new album is released at a time when the indie-pop scene is absolutely thriving, with bands like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Los Campesinos currently taking the fuzzy, impassioned blueprint and making it their own, to popular acclaim.

Members of Temper Trap were helping to create this sound in the mid eighties with bands such as Talulah Gosh and Heavenly. I have to confess my ignorance for most of these bands songs, as well as the previous Temper Trap albums. What I can say though is that this album combines a steady, sleigh bell tap, reminiscent of bands like Jesus and Mary Chain with lush, dreamy sixties girl pop vocals and clean gently strummed guitars. It’s a very lovely combination and while it’s not breaking any new ground it’s a warm, relaxing listen.

I do prefer this type of thing with a bit more fuzz and feedback and a bit more urgency and bite. Nevertheless it is a very lovely record and comes highly recommended. David Cooper

King Prawn Records

Let’s be honest, Britain hasn’t produced that many great heavy bands in recent years. The last home-grown ‘heavy’ album to really get me frothing at the mouth was Gallows’ “Grey Britain”, whilst their 2009 Leeds festival set transported me back to my late-teens, when Entombed’s death ‘n’ roll ruled my stereo. Exit State won’t be troubling said stereo many more times, if at all.

There’s no faulting them as a musical unit, they’re tight and on occasion write some infectious hooks, sterilised hooks at that. Everything about this album screams ‘commercial metal’, which holds little, if any appeal for me. “Out ‘Till 3” has, more than a hint of Lost Prophets about it, with plenty of potential to fill the dance floor at any given rock-night. But surely anyone with their critical faculties intact will baulk at “Death Of A Rockstar Part One”, one of the most overwrought, ‘everything and the kitchen sink’, rock ballads I’ve recently witnessed. “Part Two”, complete with gang chants, orchestral keyboards and stadium sing along sections is even more bloated and excessive. It’s cinematic in scope, but unfortunately like many summer blockbusters there’s little to reward repeated exposure. Meanwhile “Dirty Intoxicated” suggests the band listened to Pink’s “So What” on constant repeat when they were writing it.

Granted their clean, catchy, chorus laden metal will have its fans. Me, I’d prefer something altogether, darker, dirtier and well deathly. It’s no coincidence I’ve been blasting Entombed’s “Clandestine” so much recently. Andy Whittaker

Self Released

Glass are not just the sum of the gothic, post-punk and new wave influences they list in their biography. Perhaps ‘Prog’ is still a dirty word around some parts, but there is more than a hint of progressive rock at work during this album, particularly on its closing track “My Elan”, where echoes of progressive-metal titans Dream Theater can be heard. Further to this the “The Sound Of Glass” is a concept album, a progressive rock trademark if ever there was one.

The imagination which has gone into not just this album, but also the band’s website (www.thesoundofglass.com) is impressive. If anything it is Alexander King’s voice that lets the material down slightly, lacking some of the power of Editors’ Tom Smith. As it reaches its conclusion “The Last Transmission” certainly bares the hallmarks of the material which has brought Editors to a wider audience. Crucially at this point King’s voice is complemented by layers of backing vocals. At points earlier in the song his vocal style reminds me of that of William Shatner, seemingly talking over the music. Still, I happen to be a fan of Shatner’s “Has Been” album, some people though may find the vocals are missing that extra something.

At just over half an hour “The Sound Of Glass” never threatens to outstay its welcome, shunning the tendency of more overtly progressive bands to pen songs that often stretch well past ten minutes. Secretly though, you wonder if the band yearn to unleash a sprawling double-album in the future, we’ll have to wait and see. Andy Whittaker

Pop Fosters EP
Self released

Punk music is good; it’s brilliant. However, I personally find that, the older punk music is the better. A lot of bands these days go for a punk sound but often end up sounding like a bit of a joke. Maybe it’s because bands like The Ramones, The Clash and Buzzcocks did it so well, who knows.

Fortunately, Pop Fosters; a two-piece from Wakefield, have made a pretty decent job of it. ‘I don’t wanna feel this way tonight’ has that cheery little spark most Vaseline’s songs do, which coupled with Pop Fosters’ up-beat, high tempo chantings, makes for a great little track. ‘Everyday’s the same’ is another interesting song, it begins all gloomy and depressing, but just at the right moment becomes an infusion of punk and raw energy. Clever little thing they did there, and it certainly has the intended effect.

‘Myopic’ is blatantly the stand out tune on this EP; it’s immediately catchy, fast paced and fused with energy. You should definitely listen to this song. This track tells me this is a band to watch, creating such a perfect punk song, we can only hope there’s more where this came from. Not to say the other songs aren’t good; but they certainly don’t have the spirit and intensity of this song.

Aside from the songs, Pop Fosters have a great attitude that comes through on this EP. Essentially attitude is what makes punk so brilliant in the first place, and this EP is bursting at the seams. Melissa Greaves

This Many Boyfriends - Getting a Life With EP
Thee SPC

This Many Boyfriends take their name from the Beat Happening song ‘This Many Boyfriends Club’. Surely they have to be good if they’re named after a Beat Happening song. With that in mind, it seems quite fitting that the CD release of this EP comes with a fanzine and badge/sticker set; I’m in Indie heaven already.

The first song on this EP is called ‘I Don’t like You ('Cos You Don't Like The Pastels)’, and it’s pure brilliance. Anyone with a hint of music-snobbery lurking under their skin will instantly relate to this song, with lyrics like “I didn’t even flinch when you said you hated the go-betweens” and “I even let you smash my Cribs singles box-set”. Lyrics aside, it’s fervent and poppy guitar sounds and blatant twee-ness will leave you weak at the knees. Listen closely, there’s a lovely little riff in there not too dissimilar to Ryan Jarman’s riff in ‘Another Number’. To top it all off, the chorus has an immense catchiness like a Ramones song; captivating in its simplicity.

‘I should be a communist’ sounds like Morrissey and Marr joined Beat Happening for the day, and the results are catastrophically ingenious. The guitar playing on ‘#1’ is clearly influenced by Orange Juice, and when coupled with a clarity laden vocal, gives this song a perfectly summery vibe. When I thought things couldn’t get better, they did. The female vocals on ‘Trying to be good’ are perfect, and the feeling behind the vocals as a whole is sure to grip the heart of any Indie soul.

This band reminds me of Comet Gain; there’s a definite energy running throughout all the songs. Their influences shine through, yet they still have a unique and interesting sound. Melissa Greaves

Under the Bus Station Clock – Compilation
Philophobia Music

‘Under the Bus Station Clock’ is the recent compilation from Philophobia, with a whole variety of talented artists on display. Noticeably absent are Runaround Kids, but not to worry, label boss Rob Dee has more than compensated with this fine selection of songs. Although it may seem a little incestuous, in the sense that many bands contain members of other bands, it’s certainly a positive thing.

The compilation begins with ‘How to Stay Alright in a Southern State’ from ‘Junior Swimsuit’. He used to be the lead singer of Lapels (RIP); aside from that he has the most poetic and eloquent way with words I have ever come across. This is far more stripped back than the raucous energy of the Lapels, but still as enticing. Followed by ‘A Billion Parallels, Crashing’ from ‘One Day, After School’, who since the release of the ‘PROLEFEED’ EP late last year, have progressed tremendously. Though as before, still utterly charming and a great listen, this track is mesmerising and hauntingly atmospheric.

A particular highlight has to be ‘When the Weathers Wrong’ from The Bambinos with an incredibly captivating vocal, which is addictive accompanied with the twinkly guitar sounds. Another highlight; Wakefield’s answer to Jeffery Lewis, ‘Salvage My Dream’ with a great song called ‘Cost Of Living’, which drifts between gentle vocals and an hypnotically aggressive rant. ‘St Gregory Orange’ takes you to another world with ‘Pan Away Then Fade to Black’ which is eerily cinematic, showcasing further poetic talent from the once Lapels front man.

Then there’s ‘IMP’ with ‘My Least Favourite Brunette’; they’re the perfect indie-pop band, home to a few ex Lapel members. IMP probably have more talent in a single toe than all off NME’s current fancies combined, but that’s generally how it goes isn’t it?
‘Jeremiah’ flaunt the most charming of vocals with ‘Do Whatever He Says’, and two of Wakefield’s most exciting bands ‘Tiny Planets’ and ‘Piskie Sits’ expectantly provide catchy, dreamy songs. Both these bands harbour a distinct uniqueness, which is rare to come by these days. And, when Tiny Planets man Rob Slater isn’t sat behind the drum kit, he’s off making delightful punk songs like ‘The Frontal Lobe’ with ‘The Spills’. Then, there’s Piskie Sits guitarist Harry Rhodes with his exquisite contribution ‘Twisting Deep and Cursing Sweet’, with a slight Suede vibe, this track is certainly a personal favourite. As is Michael Ainsley’s ‘Slip Smash’, with his heart on his sleeve and poppy keyboard sounds, he offers up magical pop song.

The penultimate song on this compilation is from the greatly talented ‘ByBy’ slurring over a mystical combination of glimmering keyboards and sneering drums. Rounding things up perfectly are ‘Candid Squash’ with the final track ‘Gimp’, it may be over eight minutes long, but each and every one is worth a devoted ear.

So there you have it, Philophobia is just showing off really; there isn’t a single song on this compilation that could be described as anything less than brilliant. Melissa Greaves

Quack Quack – Slow as an eyeball
Cuckundoo Records

This reminds me a lot of the first time I heard Aloha Hawaii, Stuart Braithwaite and Aiden Moffats side project, in that it makes me feel a little bit sick. Now, that’s probably not the best opening line to a review Quack Quack will receive, lets be fair. But it doesn’t mean it’s not good, it just means you have to give it some time, and get tuned in to what’s going on.

The keyboards on opener ‘Perpetual Spinach’ chime around nicely, recounting the innocence of an old fashioned children’s TV programme. The playful melodies are key, and along with the inventive and sprightly drumming remain constant across the album. There’s a Fall element to it as well, the repetitive rhythms and the sense of not being quite sure what’s going on, or where you are; its disorientating certainly. But this is purely instrumental, and perhaps more than any other instrumental record I’ve heard do the instruments take the place of the vocal lines. Its dense, it’s packed, there’s rarely a space that isn’t filled. If they did have a vocalist they simply wouldn’t be able to get a word in.

It’s a real achievement for a three piece to have created this record, and I admire the musicianship immensely. Whether it’s a record anyone that isn’t a musician would like to listen to is a difficult one. It’s got the complexity and (for me) inaccessibility of Jazz – that element of impenetrability and experimentation. I’m frightened that this might be a little too close to ‘muso’ territory, but there isn’t the sense that the musicians are having more fun than you; it’s undeniably an astounding piece of work. And I love that it is incredibly positive, a happy and celebratory album, that is proudly different. I love the attitude of the band too, and that they’ve created something fresh and challenging… it just makes my head hurt a bit. It’s certainly unlike anything else reviewed this issue, and for that reason alone it is definitely worth checking out. Chances are you’ll fall in love, or turn it off after about 24 seconds. So, worth a go right? Dean Freeman

Above Us The Waves – A Gene
Self Released

Before even hearing this I knew I was onto something good. You know why? Because it came in a hand made sleeve, and not just a little picture placed inside a second hand CD case – a full on fold out paper sleeve, with pictures and handwritten lyrics and allsorts. It made me realise I haven’t received a crappy demo in ages. It’s no longer good enough to send off CDRs with a pen written band name on. The enthusiasm and creativity of the sleeve says a lot about the band I reckon, so well done Above Us The Waves.

And for the small matter of the music? Well, it’s a 4 track EP and it would be impossible not to mention Runaround Kids, with which this band share some members. It’s a similar high energy mix of super quick clean jangly guitars and pounding, noisier parts but rather more angular and ‘raw’ than the previously mentioned band. In parts its blisteringly fast and draws to my mind a mix between 80’s American punk - not hardcore - but the sound of bands in garages in suburban neighbourhoods, with a touch of Smashing Pumpkins ‘1979’ melancholia. That may sound like a bit of a contradiction, but it’s matched by the music, these songs often sound like lots of little ideas squashed and forced together, but in way that actually works really well. The sudden changes of mood, tempo, vocalists and time signature all sound really natural and I think that’s a real gift. To be fair, I’ve listened to this quite a lot recently and still don’t feel I’ve scratched the surface, which is pretty rare for an ‘energetic Indie band’ or whatever this stuff gets labelled. And its further testament to the members of the band who are in other projects that this sounds fresh, vital and FULL of ideas – it’s the sound of an unquenchable urge to create - and that this is the first ‘release’ from the band, when others are still pissing about figuring out how not to sound like all the songs they used to cover before they wrote their own, is pretty exceptional. Dean Freeman

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