Friday, 11 March 2011

Interim Reviews - Afternoon

And we’re back

Split 7” from Philophobia Music featuring two tracks each from The Bambinos and The Ran Tan Waltz. The Bambinos have a real tight and fresh sound that’s hard to pin down genre wise. Well, it’s melodic Indie Pop int it, but it has an edge all of its own. It bouncy, fun, infectious and a lot more rocking than the above term would suggest. It’s also surprisingly pacey and intricately structured, well beyond the ‘this is the verse, now here comes the chorus’ position a lot of bands seem to get stuck in. Frontman Jay is a wonder, twisting a gentle yet wild impassioned howl around the brisk backing and it’s his performance that really makes this set of songs.

Ran Tan Waltz pop up next with a more serious sound, slightly in debt to an 80’s production, with not so subtle reverb on the guitars but smartly avoiding the urge to blast it all in distortion on the choruses. Instead the vocals and guitar are allowed to inter mingle together, each taking lead throughout the tracks, creating an impressive sense of space. There is an underlying sinister mood throughout their side of the EP and a swagger and a rich confidence helped further by the strong production skills on show.

Overall, it’s hard to fault the EP, showing off as it does two distinct, and distinctly different bands creating some ambitious and well crafted pieces of classic Indie, albeit two sides of the Indie coin.

Next up we get Frozen Flame (S/T), a band at the ABSOLUTE start of their musical careers, sporting natty school uniforms on the front cover (not in the ACDC way either). It does lay a difficult conundrum on me – do I review this as I would any other release, comparing it to bands with more experience at the risk of shooting them down before they’ve begun, or should I take into account their inexperience and risk patronising them and praising something rather useless? Oh the life of a demo reviewer.

Well, I’ve got to say that they are impressively musically competent, that is without question. It’s unfortunate that the genre is the kind of ROCK that was played in the backrooms of pubs from 20 years ago (and still is, sadly), but to be fair, there is no reason these guys couldn’t be playing the pub circuit (bar the legality of it). They are more competent than a lot of bands 2 or 3 times their age; it’s just a genre I pretty much despise. But I want this review to be positive, because there is real skill on show here. Opening track ‘Knockin on the Door’ is easily the best here showcasing major ROCK talents from all 4 members and I can see a certain type of person going nuts for that. The others don’t match up to it, ‘Time To Go’ in particular suffering from atrocious lyrics. But overall as a first musical statement it’s pretty immense. I shudder just to think of the crap I was writing at their age. So, it’s ROCK, bordering into PUB ROCK, which I hate, but they do it well, which I like. They just need to stop listening to their dad’s record collections and find their own sound. Good Luck to em.

Mint, it’s Protectors next. Singer Chris was in one of my favourite ever bands, Pylon and this is his (relatively) new project. This is kind of a taster EP for an upcoming album they are working on and it displays the same skill for simple hook filled, post hardcore influenced awesomeness that Pylon had. In many ways it’s a natural extension of that bands last album which saw them settle into a brilliant, gently anthemic pop groove. My Girlfriend say she could take or leave Chris’ singing voice, but I personally find it such a warm and captivating sound; don’t know if it’s a relation I have between that and great Pylon gigs in the back rooms of pubs (despite what I’ve just said about the back rooms of pubs!). The three songs here show a fantastic grasp of invigorating songwriting that only comes with years of plying the trade with skill and success. Literally cannot wait for the album.

Whoa, huge change of mood / pace / EVERYTHING here with a remix EP by Fracture (Enter The Machines), a Trans-Atlantic Industrial Glitch Core Uber Project. In many ways this is simply not a project aimed at me. But not being aware of the original material does allow me to approach it with fresh ears. They don’t stay fresh for long though!

Despite what these set of reviews may suggest, I do not just listen to Indie Pop – I can’t help what I get sent through can I? When it’s that or CRAP, what am I gonna do? I’m rather partial to something a little heavier too and so I found this enjoyable, especially for a remix project, Its an interesting mix of yr standard heavy, dirty, chugging guitars spliced in with some propulsive beats, varying from a kind of mid 90’s swaggering industrial groove, to something more approaching recent 65daysofstatic, with its off kilter pounding and electro flourishes. With its samples too, it also takes influence from soundscaping and soundtracking, giving the whole experience more depth and interest. I like.

Trains. Yes, He Who Saw The Deep by I Like Trains, which I’ve been listening to so much recently, I forgot to review it. As has been well publicised, there’s been much that has changed for I Like Trains since the release of their last album. HWSTD is quite a departure from said album in many ways; it actually sounds more like a debut album to me – it’s pacey, upbeat, eager to please with its imaginatively constructed and layered tracks. Occasionally the decreased production budget becomes apparent, albeit only marginally so, but for me it adds to the experience of the album – it’s accessible and engaging and makes an effort to connect with its audience whereas they once stood proudly aloof.

The drumming in particular stands out for me as a highlight and major change. It’s like he’s been let off the leash. It drives the songs so much more now rather than acting like a metronome to the drones as was required before. I say this sounding like I am discrediting their previous work; I’m not, I loved it. But the more I listen to HWSTD, the more it feels like a necessary step for them, it feels HEALTHY. Plus the pacing of this album beats their last; a brilliant opening trilogy of brisk, epic and sweeping tracks sets the tone. The intro to ‘Progress is a Snake’ seems to suggest a return to the old iLiKETRAiNS before it explodes into one of the bands best songs with a military drum roll. The yearning lyric of ‘As Europe slips into the sea / we could have saved a million more’ calls back to the bands earlier historical settings and perhaps this is the only thing about new Trains that lacks in anyway. Without a context the lyrics occasionally can sound a little trite with their use of stock phrases. But not often. A hugely enjoyable yarn overall.

Ooo look, the aforementioned Buen Chico EP – The Seasons EP to be precise. And for once an accurate press release – this is easily ‘the bands most ambitious work to date’. A four track SUITE of songs (I love that whole idea) working their way through the year. Opener ‘Summer’ opens in typical Buen Chico style with a cracking chorus refrain – obvious but great as ever. Then we move into Autumn and the beat becomes a little more disjointed, gentle strums and big harmonising backing vocals… the structure loosens up and you can almost feel the summer slipping away. Clever skills on show. Bizarrely, in Buen Chico world, Winter is time for dancing, as the third track shows such straight up 4/4 kick and hi-hat work, coming across rather like Klaxons, it has to be said. But it’s yet another jolt in another direction and it’s fantastic to hear them spread their wings exploring different styles with such seeming ease and success.

This is a great release from a great band, a 4 track EP is, for me, the perfect does of Buen Chico. I could listen to them all day probably, but this EP in particular feels ‘right’ and leaves me wanting to right back to the beginning again. Well done those three.

Ha ha, this is pretty cool. China Shop Bull have improved a lot since I last heard them. They have certainly stuck to their guns with the Ska / Heavy Rock / Dub / Rap mashup that sounded a little wrong last time. But they seem to be getting their heads round this admittedly difficult task, so they’ve proved me wrong. Even previously derided single ‘Sandblaster’ sounds a million times better. Fair play.

Album, ‘Rave To The Grave’ has an absolute load of bands informing its sound. With its aggression and heaviness (of sound and subject) Asian Dub Foundation sits at the forefront for me. It’s intense, fast, powerful, intricate and MASSIVELY IN YOUR FACE. It’s pretty bonkers actually, and I’m not referring to the old skool happy hardcore compilations. It does share the heaviness of hardcore or Gabba, thought obviously nowhere near that borderline lunatic. Halfway through we get some respite on ‘People without Shoes’ (which actually sounds a little bit like ‘2 face’ by Asian Dub, but I’ll let it go) before we launch back into it another onslaught. It must be an exhausting live show. Basically these guys are getting stronger all the time, they take this stuff real fucking serious too. Good.

Roland X

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Interim Reviews - Morning

Roland X reviews the pile of stuff that has been growing by the door in no particular order.

Cup of tea… ready. Daytime television in the background… muted. Curtains closed. Ok *Deep Breath* and we begin…

Three Blind Wolves hail from Glasgow. I saw them perform a cracking show at The Hop in Wakefield a little while back. I have before me their ‘Echo on the Night Train’ single. It’s pretty classy songwriting via the route of acceptable Americana influenced folk pop, benefiting from a nicely polished production favouring a deep guttering guitar sound. The harmonised ‘whoa’s’ are where the song steps into slightly predictable territory perhaps, but the band tread a line between good time rockin’ and more cerebral elements well. B-Side Honey Fire is a little more reserved but looser too, a confidence of a band of much greater years. The reverb heavy guitars give way to an unusual and engaging structure of euphoria and melancholy that reveals a sharp set of brains behind it all. Basically these are some damn fine talented fella’s. With the right song they could go a long way; there’s enough here to make me want to hear more and keep my fingers crossed they find it.

Bearsuit – I keep seeing that name everywhere. But what the hell are they like? I have a bit of a problem with bands with an animal in their name. Seems an easy, unimaganitive cheap Indie trick. But a bear SUIT? …an intentional inversion of this? A Radiohead reference?

Wrong wrong wrong. It’s Techno Ladytron. ‘When will I be Queen?’ reminds me instantly of ‘Bad to have a Bad Uncle’ from Nathan Barley. Perhaps that’s just this song ‘I have bad thoughts, I have bad thoughts – no inner monologue’. Seems to be attempting the detatched ice cool of aforementioned Ladytron but… doesn’t. It’s caught between the two era’s of Ladytron too, albeit unintentionally. A mix of the early, retro future style and the wall of sound MBV synths they employ now. But it’s curiously empty, just rammed with annoying half hooks. Sorry, cant vibe off this. And the remix as a B-Side isn’t going to help, despite being far more interesting.

Counting Coins’ Take The Ride EP is an instant change of pace / style etc. The kind of Ska / Punk I haven’t listened to for a lot of years. Opener ‘Not Enough Heroes (Too Much Heroin)’ is designed to be catchy and anthemic, and does its job in a style typical of its influence. Second track ‘Loose Change’ is something a little different and characterful; laid back chanting (yes…) and an upbeat pop vibe, with some sweet Sublime style sing-rap. It’s the best Ska Punk I’ve heard in a very long time, and Counting Coins can have that for the poster, but the truth is, it’s a long time since I’ve actually listened to some. From this EP I would gather the scene is thriving and vibrant, yet very similar to the last time I was there. It’s good time stuff. And Counting Coins seem to do well with an upbeat, passionate take on it. And obviously they’ll be great live. I guess you don’t expect a band like Counting Coins to reinvent the wheel, and here they don’t, but they do what they do very well and the variation and invention on this EP is impressive.

Never Kill A Secret EP by The Primitives instantly lights up my marathon reviewing session. They have a quaint, super pop sound, somewhere around The Delgados performing obscure C86 covers. There’s a cool swagger that matches the artwork here too, the simple Blue / Red / White design and title suggesting some lost 60’s spy caper starring the band. They should do it. It’d be ace, if the music is owt to go by. Effortless and classic, it has the 1960’s and 1980’s references (Motown drums, sweet dreamy female vocals) but also a charm all of its own. A real pleasant surprise.

Moody Gowns give themselves a real fighting chance before the CD hits the deck by packaging it in a homemade sleeve with lots of nice pictures, doodles and words. I like that. All you in bands should do that. If you send a marker penned CD you are already fighting an uphill battle. Do SOMETHING. And if you can’t, get a friend to, Jesus.

Reviewing ‘Sincerely Yours’ is a little harder though. It’s hard to categorise certainly. Ambitious. Odd. Infectious. The opening seconds remind me of ‘Frontier Psychiatry’ with its ghost like groans. And then… breaks down into some smart deconstructed idiosyncratic pop… thing. It’s bouncy, energetic; melodies reverberating around your brain with little regard for the effect it’s having on your mental health. It gets less direct as it goes on, mutating into a more jazz influenced beast as it progresses over its 4 tracks. I like it. I don’t know how else to describe them. It’s pushing things. The band do a great job and creating a swirling backdrop to singer Nathan Moseley’s groaning plea’s in many a diverse manner. Just go have a listen will you.

Mr Gary C presents his single ‘A Little Bit Easier’ and brings with it another bugbear of mine – the ‘collage’ front cover which features the singer / band in a room AND LOOK! There’s stuff all over that ‘subtley’ hints at the influences. It’s so fucking lazy and unimaginative. Can’t think of an art concept? Just stick loads of your crap around and it’ll make the music seem thought out and deeper. Gary C does takes this limited context somewhere by sitting outside in a park. But look over there, an old record player, a Sinatra magazine, a Victoria sponge. Worst of all is the back cover, Mr Gary C looking serious, sat on a Scooter. Credits: ‘Lambretta Supplied by Evolution Scooters’ – it’s not even his!

Oh wait, there’s a CD in here too. 3 tracks of lightweight inoffensive pop. It a professional production certainly, well mixed with varied instrumentation. The backing band is solid. It’s just the songwriting that isn’t. I wish I hadn’t lost the press release because it had a whole list of things Mr Gary C has done in the past, including, if I recall correctly, having one of his songs ‘heard by the man who decides the music for James Bond films’. Which means what exactly…? Not exactly Moonraker is it? More like Barrelscraper. Sorry to divulge again, but there’s really not much to say here. It’s easy listening, and listening to it in the background is certainly the easiest, and possibly the best way to go about things.

Howard James Kenny – Insects. 1 track promo here for the single and from an album to be released in April. I like that. No messing. All or nothing on the one track. An understated, gently sweeping choir swirls over a meandering, picked guitar, with Mr Kenny coming over like Guy Garvey’s slightly more awake younger brother. It really should get going about the 2 and a half minute mark… but doesn’t. Maybe that would be too obvious. There’s not quite enough here for me to know what Howard James Kenny is about really. But I did play it round a few times in a row. Damn it, all the bands who overfill their demos and promos and all I get here is one track. I want more! Keep an eye out for this one.

The Stripper Project – terrible name – give us ‘Beautiful Life’ – a standard title. On a marker penned CD. Oh well, here we go then…

This is probably the kind of thing I would usually object to, but you know what, I must be in a good mood after Howard James Kenny, because it’s not half bad. First track ‘The Back of the Cemetry’ has a Killers feel, with that U2 ripped riff and OTT synths. The lyrics also have that ‘influenced by Morrisey’ feel – they aren’t LIKE Morriseys lyrics, just influenced (i.e. similar, worn to death themes tackled in an aloof, occasionally touching way, yet all too calculated). But it’s all done pretty well. The 80’s electro influences come to the fore on ‘Wondergirl’. It’s pretty cool in a lo-fi Kraftwerk kinda way and shows they aren’t afraid to try different things. There’s a battle between taking things very commercial and adding in awkward, challenging sections. Which is fine and admirable, in a way.

I’ve got a whole album of this here, and my interest is pretty much kept throughout due to their skill with the hooks, the POP. There’s variation and imagination in the songwriting to suggest great things ARE possible. Its not often I will say it, but this band really need to be MORE produced. You can hear all the ideas they, or the producer, have had, but it doesn’t have the epic, widescreen feel that it needs to work. But the foundations are there and you can’t ask more than that for a bands first release. It’s inconsistent, but with a charm to it, and I think this album will be more important to the band than anyone who buys it. They’ve created a set of songs, but what now? Go for Commercial Success or be interesting? Age old question, with only one answer, really.

Right-on. Buffalo Bones release the Hell To Skeleton EP, citing influences of QOTSA, Beck and The Dead Weather. I also hear a hint of Supergrass in the whine of lead track ‘Exploder’s chorus. Cool. It is a heavy rocking thing; they smartly keep things moving at a pace, not afraid to throw in some scream-a-long choruses. Pleasingly upfront, like a MUCH better Vines. Track 2 ‘Silence is Golden’ brings things down all too quick, slower, plodding. It’s a sharp song though, accomplished with more of the classic rock influences shifting into view. Should have popped up later in the EP though. The Dead Weather comes through on the third track in fairly inventive style. By the closer ‘Left Before I Arrived’ my interest has wained a little, the kind of thing I can imagine a classic rock covers band playing. Not enough of Buffalo Bones in it, but overall, as my first impression of this band, this EP is does its job damn well. Can imagine I’ll be seeing their names on a lot of posters this next year.

The late morning Renaissance continues with a free download single from Buen Chico called ‘Happiness is Important’. It’s a definite progression from their earlier stuff, more dynamics, more going on, getting to that point all great 3 pieces need to, when it sounds way beyond the work of just three people. There’s more ambition, but still tied in a lovely, joyous pop package. It starts with an uncharacteristically heavy plod before developing into a lovely mid paced yearning for happiness… and better times. Buen Chico seem to be a band that have been around for a long time but have remained criminally underrated. It’s great to see a) they are still developing and getting better and b) they haven’t become bitter with it. As ever with a free download, just give it a go. So much is free these days, so it’s odd to say that this is ‘worth it’, but it really is. I’m pleased to see Buen Chico’s upcoming EP proper in my afternoon pile, but right now I need a break or a sandwich, so that’s it for now.

Roland X