Saturday, 4 August 2012

August Review Roundup

Roland X attacks our growing 'to do' pile between watching Team GB clean up at the Olympics

White Heat
Self Release

Ok, I know nothing of this band. Rhubarb Bomb was sent a link to soundcloud with the two tracks from their single. No bio, nothing. I could look it up, course, but on this occasion I kinda like the idea of having no point of reference; purely on the music.

So, lead track Smiles shows White Heat to be rather noisy outfit with a slightly under produced but huge guitar sound. It’s driven, echo laden post-punk with reverb drenched female vocals that sways between generic Indie riffing and very interesting wall of noise harmonising. It’s works its way into your brain no doubt and doesn’t mess about – three minutes and we are done. Flipside Hymm is more reflective, a lolloping beat and rolling jangle mixing in with a pretty woozy vocal. It’s a simple sound but well executed. A huge guitar crash seems to be taking the track into a huge My Bloody Valentine type conclusion… but doesn’t and the songs rotates round once more, saving the full on climax for the end. It’s pretty impressive actually and I hope this in particular gives an indication as to where the rest of the band’s material lies. A mix of Nu-Shrag and My Bloody Valentine isn’t a million miles off and this is definitely worth checking out.

Too Many T’s

Too Many T’s are a Hip-Hop duo from London and this is kind of a five track limited edition taster EP. Clearly geared towards people who have just witnessed their infectious live show it’s an upbeat record, heavy on beats and breaks and PLENTY of bass. It certainly has an early ‘90s bloc party feeling to it, especially on opening pair Hazard and 1992, with hints of Paul’s Boutique type smart partying rhythms, though there’s no heavy sampling, just a bouncing vibe.

It Ain’t Right , which is kinda the lead track on here, features a sweet looping dancehall backing; the introduction of trumpets, jazz piano and vocals loops straight from yr Gran’s 78s is very well executed.

In fact, if anything, this EP shows off the duo’s skills as producers more than as rappers. As I’m well aware from their lives shows, the boys defo have the skills to pay the bills and these are always placed at the centre of the show. Here; the focus feels like the backings, purely because they are so good. That said, the interaction which makes Too Many T’s so special is here in spades, closing track Plum Jam! especially evocative of their obscenely good fun live show.

Steve Chapman Smith

Listen up, I was all set to hate this. I don’t know why. It’s the cover of someone who I presume is Steve. He’s singing into a mic, eyes all screwed up with is hair swished back like a terrible ‘80s rock star. The only oddity in this scene of cheese is the fact he’s holding an acoustic guitar.

And thus, six tracks of acoustic based songwriting (although the last is a Stones cover, urgh). But once the CD gets whirring, it aint bad. Opener and title track Rise is all about standing up to the government and showcases Steve’s powerful and passionate vocals, despite it being a bit too Americanised for my liking. It’s all about pulling together, being pawns in a game, selling people down the river, about thieves and liars. You know the score. What can I say? It’s well done.

The EP proceeds with a full band, kicking out some looping Americana / country styled musings. It really aint my bag. I can’t stand that country twiddle. But I can tell that Steve Chapman Smith is the real deal. It’s also clear he’s not just working through familiar genre tropes for the sake of it; there’s a proper sense of authenticity here, using music to get a message across. He believes in what he’s doing and has managed the difficult trick of transferring that to record. I have nothing but respect for that.

If anything, the EP is a bit one paced, despite variations for the backing band. It seems to plod at a similar tempo but as an intro into what Steve is all about, I totally get it and would certainly recommend to country music lovers, who like a bit more of a lyrical edge to their singers.

Tender Trap
Ten Songs About Girls

Opening track Train From King’s Cross Station could not be more atypical of the Indie-Pop revival, but in the best possible way. Within three seconds, I get the band and am transported to many excited evening in the Indietracks Disco.

The band are a combo of various IndiePop legends and this is the band’s third album. Immediately, with that first song, it is clear to see that this is their best album yet. Many a-time I have stood watching yet another Indie-Pop band and thought, yes, I like this but by god, I could write these songs. Two chords, twee melody – done. This record immediately catches me out with my arrogant boasts, because it shows you need something a little more than that. This has the simplicity of all great pop but opens Pandora’s toy box full of clever tricks and feels like a whole lot of fun, much more than my cynical ponderings (Though Step One is humorously so, in its checklisting to fame).

The combo of the female vocals, in their many forms, is a recurring great touch. Like the massed vocals, the work of the whole band swamps into a magnificent whole. Behind it all is a strong sense of purpose, individuality and tru-feminist positioning. There’s a wave of emotions across it all, but even when they are being wry or melancholic, the sheer sunshine of the record shines through. It’s fantastic, and effortless too. Though the obvious touchstones of Shrag and Evans The Death are almost too blatant to mention, the similarities are there and for fans of those bands, this is a dead cert. But the appeal spreads a lot further. I reckon if we all bought this and played it at full blast the summer would have no choice but to return.

This literally fell through my letterbox in the middle of this review writing session and I really don’t feel like listening to anything else now. This is tricky, but I am thrilled to have discovered a proper gem of a record amongst this to do pile. Cheers Tender Trap!

Wot Gorilla?

This record is awesome. Math / Prog type rock doesn’t strike me as something that will immediately engage. So, I got myself a nice big cup of tea and some biscuits and settled in for the long haul. But – bugger me – it’s got some massive pop elements amongst the crazy time signatures et al. And I’m straight in to it.

The band are from Halifax and mix the expected oddness with some kind of post hardcore. So it’s weird jazziness and proper bouncing punkiness. I don’t know how the hell they pull this off but they completely do. The vocals recall the non shouting elements of bands like Touche Amore. SB features an intro like a much better Biffy Clyro – you know the thing they tried to do on Infinity Land? I think it is the singing that ties this crazy patchwork together. Many of these freewheeling prog bands make the mistake of producing music entertaining only to themselves, but here the more accessible vocal lines draw the listener in.

I’ve not had chance to digest all this yet. Wot Gorilla combine their influences in a way I’ve never heard before and I can’t remember the last time I thought that. It’s fucking crazy. The sound is new and innovative, but even within the realms of melodic mathrock they bring something of their own to the table; a more accessible charm without tuning down their idiosyncrasies one iota; what an accomplishment. After this initial listen, I can’t really do the band justice with my words – my apologies. But this is one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in a long time and I strongly recommend a look / listen

Evans The Death

Aw man, how slack is Rhubarb Bomb? This has been out months and it’s only just been passed to me. Well, we are within the orbit of planet Indie-Pop once more but a little scuzzier, a little more positively shambolic; cacophonous. The five piece make a breath-taking racket, immediately smashed into your face with opener Bo Diddley.

What surprises is the range across the record. Morning Voice is a gorgeous piece of music, epic and grand and life affirming. The voices in Indie-Pop can tend to be drenched in reverb but here the pure power of Katherine Whittaker‘s voice is brought to the fore. It’s incredibly adventurous and confident.

I like how the album appears to have been designed with the old side A and side B in mind. Morning Voice is followed by the second side’s (and single) Threads. It’s an horrific wall of growling noise tamed by the bizarre refrain of “Why did I watch that documentary?” This kind of punky, run away train type three minute smash-up seems to be their calling card, but each example on the record has something different about it and the album flies by. The band made a great impression at Rhubarb Bomb’s Long Division for the ferocity and energy. This record shows a broader range and does what any debut should do; excites, energises and head-spins with its power, yet creates many possible signposts for the future.

The Tracks

Ambition / Pretension. Such a hard line to straddle. Here, we have the second album from The Tracks and I have to admit the first passed me by. Obviously it was a success, hence the second. First impressions are mixed; the artwork / packaging are professional and seem to suggest a rather doomy, post punk outfit. The album credits show that the members don’t ‘play’ their instruments, they ‘perform’ them. The book doesn’t have page numbers; it has Roman Numerals. The album opens and closes with tracks called Prologue and Epilogue, there is a song called A Friend Called Silence and every page of the booklet had a black and white shot of at least one band member looking into the middle distance, or straight through you, like they are so tortured etc etc.

But, y’know, someone’s obviously told ‘em they need an image and a pose to hold, so they’ve gone for it. And if the music works, that falls into place. But the image and style always come second. If the tunes don’t back up the PR, you are gonna end up looking a bit silly.

So after perusing the sleeve for a while, I’m quite surprised by what emerges from my speakers. In contrast to the design, the album is a rag tag collection on unconnected ideas masquerading as an album. First track proper The Mood opens with an Editors type piano riff spiralling which offers early promise of something quite accomplished and moody. However, once the full band enters it quickly falls apart amongst 101 guitar moves and an atmosphere free production. This is the difference between writing a nice riff and actual songwriting. A promising opening wasted.

But then it gets weirder. The gloomy post punk cover is long forgotten by track 3 which is a simplistic, punky smash and grab that sounds like it was written by a bunch of sixteen year olds a month after getting guitars for Christmas. Lyrically, it is awfully empty and unsophisticated and this track starts a routine of incredibly obvious chord progressions and signposted ideas. The production doesn’t help; certain interesting elements that point towards the seeming post-punk influences, the wandering, exploratory bass and distant synths are hopelessly implemented and the feeling is of grand ambition left wanting in a rather embarrassing manner.

A positive is the variation of styles across the 11 tracks, but none are especially impressive or interesting. Quiet number A Little While Longer - so insipid it could be sung by Ronan Keeting - is at least an approach that is accomplished with accuracy and a certain degree of modesty and sweetness. Elsewhere, some moments come together, the central musical segements of I Need You show where this album was intended to sit sonically and other tracks display and early Killers-esqe attempts at danceable anthemism, but as an album, it doesn’t hang together.

This record feels typical of an age where it is so easy to release music. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If I’d come across this as a set of demos, I may well have been more sympathetic. But if you are selling this to people as an album, your SECOND, I expect something little more accomplished than this. Just look at the debut albums I’ve reviewed today.

The songwriting and lyrics are especially poor (it always confuses me when money is spent on making a booklet full of average lyrics that say nothing). Having seen The Tracks live halfway through compiling this review, I was astounded that a) the music sounds a lot bigger live, stronger than the weak production here and b) they carry such an offensive arrogance that I was literally left speechless. Jeez, I don’t mind people being a bit rubbish, but working hard to get better, and to learn from mistakes. But to be this bad and think you are so good, so much that you openly offend your audience. Shocked, completely shocked.

So, aside of my opinions on the music within, it is hard to see the point of this album. It is simply too much of a step too soon. Ambition is great, and I don’t want to squander people’s enthusiasm, but it’s back to the drawing board here. More, better ideas – PLEASE. If by some miracle the band were signed, then I am sure that they would be asked to change their name (poor for Google) and their first album on a major would be marketed as their debut. This would most certainly be swept under the carpet. The best they can hope is that The Tracks will be what Wrinkle are to The Cribs, but on the evidence of their second album the only conclusion would be a series of self released albums, beloved by their parents and friends and ignored by everyone else, much like the running joke of that other Wakefield loser, Clive Smith. Time for a rethink.

Roland X

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