Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Favourites of 2008: My Top 10

Just squeaking in before the end of the year in either country (UK or USA), here are my favourite albums of this uneven year:

10 - Opeth
- Watershed
Another powerful release with glorious shades from acoustic to all out metal thunder. Porcelain Heart showcases the differences exceedingly well in one song but as always it's important to listen to all the songs together to get the real contrasts taking place. An adventurous, exciting album from a band who could create no less.

9 - Murder by Death - Red of Tooth & Claw
Didn't expect this but it has actually been a while since the release of In Bocca al Lupo, at least the Stateside release, so it makes sense and is good this one isn't delayed into the UK CD bins. This one sees the singing going deeper still and really plumbing the influences of Johnny Cash songs, whilst the underlying instrumentation again benefits from Sarah Balliet's rumbling cello to add to the depth. The mix of western, folk, and alt rock all combines extremely well, leading to some rattling cuts like Coming Home, with more restrained and sometimes sinister numbers such as Ash setting them off in a similar style to the outstanding Who Will Survive & What Will Be Left of Them album. All in all, a great album where MBD may be finding their true identity now that all the facets of their previous works have been neatly rolled up into this outing.

8 - Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
I intended to purchase this for much of 2008, but only got around to it when they were further pushed by the Mercury Award in September. Fair play to them, because it's a stunning album that deserves to be up their pissing on the likes of Coldplay and Snow Patrol, whatever their own particular charms might be. Grounds For Divorce, Mirrorball, One Day Like This, Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver....the whole album triumphs on both the individuality of the songs and the gently beautiful way they all come together for a charming listen. I've found it suits a variety of moods and will have me delving fully into a back catalogue that I only know by a few choice songs. Thankfully, it looks like many others are doing the same and that these guys will get the widespread respect they have long deserved.

7 - Santogold - s/t
I didn't really enjoy the first songs I heard from Santi White but I've no idea why now, as this album has been appearing regularly on my playlists since I picked it up in May. It's concisely excellent, with an array of styles on display from the alt-pop zeal of L.E.S. Artistes to the jagged funk of Unstoppable, which lends it a certain personality and charm rarely replicated in other releases of the year. Despite the soundtracking of evert advert from cars to hair goo, I didn't hear enough to put me off and I'm glad my first listens weren't the last.

6 - The Hold Steady
- Stay Positive
"Let this be my annual reminder, that we can all be something better" and "Yeah dreams can cost some money, but money costs some dreams" are two of the more memorable lyrics that help place this one so high on my list. Aside from the fact that I love seeing the band live regardless, they do also pen some quality nostalgia-laden rock songs, whilst still managing to look to the future from time to time. This is a more mature take on life from the guys yet retains their verve and love for the good time songs. It's a case of doing what it say on the tin, because this record really does help you keep upbeat about life when your perhaps not having the best day, which is always valuable to have loaded up on your iPod.

5 - Torche - Meanderthal
Two metal albums in the top 5.....I'm so happy! Furthermore, two expansive, 'out there' metal bands with very different approaches to their application of Big Riff. Torche take the hookladen approach - more so than ever - on this very accessible outing, with colossal songs like Grenades and Across the Shields proving that metal needn't be all bluster and no upbeat melodies. Metal for those that don't like really metal? Quite possibly.

4 - This Will Destroy You - s/t
This one came in early in January, providing a similarly thrilling post-rock start to the year as Aereogramme offered in 2007. Though this couldn't quite win the same place in my aural affections as My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go, it does tick many of the same boxes. Fragile passages of intricate guitars, stirring climaxes and dynamic breaks all combine to form a gorgeous album that doesn't need words to communicate its subtle points. I've reviewed elsewhere and all the comments still hold true, this being a huge hughlight of the year.

3 - School of Language -
Sea From Shore
A testament to the joys of indie CD store shopping, I picked this up in Probe Records (Slater Street, Liverpool....cheggidout) because it had an effusive hand written label extolling the virtues of its alt-pop. I thoroughly agree and have had a few sessions where I simply had to spin it again to get my fix of the huge hooks and naggingly catchy rhythms within. This Is No Fun is a good place to start and is quite the opposite of the feeling you come away with after spending some time with the album. Easily the happiest random discovery of the year and all the better for it.

2 - 5ive
- Hesperus
The second of the adventurous metal releases I adored this year, 5ive created a masterpiece of swirling guitar walls and dynamic rhythmic peaks and troughs. It's another one that needs to be taken as a whole to really appreciate what's going on (and I haven't even begun to get into the concepts behind the album yet....although the artwork is tres pretty), though News I is as good a place to start as any. Although standard metal is struggling to win my affections a lot of the time, the experimental side is alive and well with some fantastic releases both now and slated for 09 release.

1 - TV on the Radio -
Dear, Science

I was waiting for this from the start of the year, after playing Return to Cookie Mountain ad infinitum over the last couple of years. I wasn't immediately won over on the new, more positive approach upon hearing Dancing Choose first but now both that song, Golden Age, and the numerous other upbeat, funky beauties on this album have more than taken me in. It's not just happy times either. Shout Me Out and Crying add a more restrained, soulful side to the album and Family Tree is a heart-wrenching slice of melancholy. A glorious return and all the better for being so different to its downbeat forebear, there was simply no other choice for my #1 this year.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Favourites of 2008: 20 - 11

Continuing from where we left off, here are those that were clearly excellent releases this year but couldn't quite push their way into my top 10............

20 - Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel
This is one bizarre, yet thoroughly satisfying, listen. It starts off by coming on like the Clangers national anthem, before moving into driving electronica numbers laden with synth effects. The album continues this way throughout, referencing any number of influences from The Klaxons and Mars Volta through Depeche Mode and New Order. Highlights include the fluctuating jungle stomp of The Bears Are Coming and the vigorous attack of Focker but in truth the whole headfucking effort needs to be heard in order to fully appreciate it. Mad prof genius.

19 - Forward, Russia - Life Processes
Going all standard for this release, FR decided that actual song names - rather than Give Me a Wall's arbitrary numbers - would be fine this time. How contemporary. The style is still jagged and raw, but with slightly more emphasis on melody, allowing for beauties like Spanish Triangles. The off kilter rocking numbers are still present too and the combination makes for an improved and highly coherent listen.

18 - Black Mountain - In the Future
About this time last year I was obsessively looking at the Jan '08 release schedule to see what might be worth picking up, when I downloaded Tyrants from this bad boy. It gave me the impression that I'd be buying a Sabbath-worshipping effort by a bunch of stoner long hairs. One member does fulfil that criterion, but the album from whence that track came is more varied than anything I could have imagined. Although it suffers a little for this, being too eclectically adventurous in places, they do create some exciting and dynamic tunes within it. Never knowing quite where they're going to go is also one of the positives as you move from track to track.

17 - Meshuggah - obZen
Not something you can simply put on as background music, sure, but Meshuggah deliver a technically brilliant and sonically challenging master class with obZen. It's a pleasure to have something so heavy, brutal and yet arse clenchingly tight to compare with Opeth's more organic but equally gifted Watershed in the same year. Although this doesn't come out on top, it's a more than worthy competitor.

16 - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!
I got into the double album Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus thanks to a friendly recommendation earlier this year, then had to follow up with this one. The title track is a typically brilliant storytelling effort, with Cave's trademark voice giving it the required biblical undertones. The album as a whole maybe doesn't compete with earlier releases but retains the high standard expected from a man with so much great material already out there.

15 - Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
Whilst not quite as immediately engaging as last year's The Stage Names, this one is nonetheless chock full of uptempo acoustic gems. They make it seem so effortless, pulling out deceptively simple tunes that lodge in your mind and release themselves via a slight hum later on, long after you've turned off the iPod. The Stage Names had more variety and as such was a more complete album, but this is still a worthy companion.

14 - The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
I avoided these folks for months due to their status of Kerrang! cover band and a strange link I had between them and an entirely separate emo band with Anthem in their name. More fool me! This is a terrific slice of nostalgiac, gritty rock music that revels in worshipping another time, specifically that of Bruce Springsteen's hey day. The huge choruses are undeniable and catchy as the sniffles in this freezing season we currently pass through. Check out Old White Lincoln and the title track for a couple of prime examples. Then buy the album on the back of them, because the whole kit and kaboodle fits together to make the big tunes sound even better.

13 - Portishead - Third
As a Bristol kid growing up - and actually living in the naff little town from whence their name derives - a new Portishead release had me all a flutter after all these years. My trip-hop crown will always go to Massive Attack, though Portishead came some significant yards with this engrossing return to the scene. They conjure up the expected low-end, symphonic grooves that made previous albums so good, then add a little bit of extra attitude to really push home their return. It sounds more urgent, more certain than I remember them, nowhere more so than the aptly titled We Carry On, which almost dares you to challenge them for trying their hand again. Then there's the almighty Machine Gun, which is sure to be one of the first songs on playlists worldwide for this year.

12 - vessels - White Fields & Open Devices
After downloading the Yuki EP last year I was wondering when vessels would gather enough material for a full release. Thankfully, the answer was 2008. This is a stunning amalgamation of both the foremost post-rocking Texans (Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You), epic soundscape bands like Sigur Ros, and the queer electronic noodlings of Battles. All these great reference points are insufficient, however, in describing quite how involving and dynamic a listen this album is. Best pick up a copy and experience it for yourself, I'd say.

11 - 36 Crazyfists -
The Tide & Its Takers
There's not much to say about 36CF that hasn't been covered by previous album reviews. Yes, they have a contemporary metal sound with a touch of core thrown in here and there for good measure. Yes, the tremolo-affected vocals of Brock Lindow are a love them or loathe them affair. No, this doesn't sound entirely different from the last two efforts. But all of this is what I love about the band. I partially write them off after hearing a new song or two, thinking "it sounds like a lesser version of the last one", then see them live - for this is their natural environment and one in which they demolish all before them - and buy the album the next day. They wrote unbelievably affecting and positively uplifting songs, to my mind, and they always make me react. I have so many good memories and important lyrics linked to these guys that I almost feel bad for not jumping them higher on the list. At the end of the day it is still a good but similar album, though, and I'll add Absent Are the Saints and We Gave It Hell to my list of 'must-mosh' songs when I next see them live.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Favourites of 2008: Random Numbers

Right so, I've re-listened to about as many albums from this year as I'm realistically going to fit in before the end, so I feel happy kicking off the list countdown efforts.

Carol is one of Pitchfork's less eloquent reviewers

It turns out there are 32 discs I can't be leaving off this time around, some distance short of the round 50 that I managed last year. There were still more 2007 releases that I came across early this year, so that list could have been expanded still further. This year I've found to be much more patchy. Without doubt, there have been some cracking releases, it's just that they've either all come in a glut (at least for me personally) or have been very disparate styles. That has plus points but the resounding feeling at this point is that '08 was very unbalanced and not entirely satisfying musically. I put this down to two factors:

1) Personally, I've probably not spent as much time trawling around blogs and review sites to see what's being released. At least a third of the year has been spent in transit to the USA and preparing a move to New York City, which has been great fun but has only recently got me back scouring the release schedules again. I also like to buy the discs that I'm really digging from downloaded mp3's, but cash has been reserved for only the best of the best in the second half of the year.

2) Stylistically, I'm just not feeling some of those genres clogging up the interwebz this year. The lo-fi, quiet folky bands and pop-disco sensations have at best delivered a couple of tunes that have tapped my toes, at worst left me entirely befuddled as to their peculiar charms. All of which is perfectly fine, simply allowing more time for the discs that have staked a claim to be digested fully.

Metal, in its purest form, remains conspicuous by its absence this year. I still love the genre and bands that pulled me into this beautiful musical universe but the deathcore and emo-metal that parades around trying to convince that it can stand up to the old guard simply sounds tedious and trite. Metallica released a return to form, apparently, which I'm glad for in industry terms but on a personal level this is a band that have never fully engaged my ears. I also missed the Cavalera Conspiracy record and passed over a few others in favour of more post-rock efforts, so perhaps some of the fault is mine. One way or another, though, the meat and potatoes of the genre isn't producing new bands that are demanding my attention.

Anyhow, that's all talk around the main point of this post, so to get back on track here goes 32 - 21 of my preferred listening this year.

32 -
The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia
Greg Dulli/Mark Lanegan collaborations are always likely to find a place, though this is lower than I would have first expected. It's a sombre, introspective affair for the most part, with only a few tracks like 'Idle Hands' providing a much needed change of pace. Good but perhaps too solemn for its own good?

31 -
Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
A mild surprise, in that this time out everyone's favourite BBC documentary soundtrackers reign in the epic and keep a good 3/4 of the tracks around the 5 minute mark. The album doesn't suffer for it and it actually makes for a happily direct listen, though I would certainly run back to Takk for the real blockbusters. That said, Hopelandic is rarely short of beautiful and this no exception.

30 - Frank Turner - Love, Ire & Song
Despite the expected absolute scorchers (Reasons Not to Be An Idiot, Photosynthesis, the title track...), Frank still suffers from the occassional filler that also hit debut Sleep Is For The Week. His high points are nothing short of anthemic on both plastic and the stage, however, and he still stands out as one of the UK's finest singer-songwriters of my generation...I relate to his griping!

29 - Shearwater - Rook
Beyond being an Okkervil River side project, this album has plenty of its own character and depth. The quiet, contemplative vocal style and carefully arranged instrumentation adds up to a delicate, reflective listen that gives more every time you sit down with it.

28 - Counting Crows - Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings
It's been a while since Hard Candy, so a new Crows album was a nice e-prise to find nestling in my inbox earlier this year. Whilst a double album about the weekend could have been overblown and unwarranted, whatever the concept is thankfully doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of the album. Whilst they'll probably never come close to August & Everything After again in their career, this is a welcome return to form and live circuit in my humble opinion.

27 - Jr. Juggernaut - Ghost Poison
One of a few happy accidents this year, in this case a last minute download on e-music in panic of a month's credit not rolling over. This is Americana-tinged rock with some wonderfully simple yet catchy songs (Lit By The Winter, Coming In Backwards). Closer inspection of the lyrics reveals some intentionally contradictory content against the feel of the songs (Believe in Something), which only adds to the repeat listens guaranteed by the quality on show here.

26 - Scars on Broadway
- s/t
Some hold that when Daron sings in System of a Down, things get shite. Happily I'm not one of these strange people and thus I take Scars on Broadway for what it is, a gloriously eccentric alternative to the day job with enough differences and quirks to justify its existence. Listen to Stoner-Hate or They Say and the point is proven.

25 - The Duke Spirit - Neptune
A strong follow up to the rollicking debut Cuts Across the Land, this one is full of water-borne metaphors to cover anything from du jour trends to the inexplicably abandoned relationships. The vocals hark back to Detroit's rock heyday but the overall sound is much more contemporary, making for an out of time but fascinating listen. Getting stronger by the album.

24 - Bob Mould - District Line
That distinctive, time-wearied voice of Mr Mould is immediately engaging on this solo outing, evoking fond memories of his influential pre-noughties bands and keeping one happy throughout the short duration of the album. Snappy, punchy songs with hooks that could be used to drag out Simon Cowell's smarmy grey matter. This is the honest, pure sound of music that needs to be retained.

23 - Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
A slow, rumbling, behemoth of an album. This sounds like an expedition into the deepest rainforest, being both organic, adventurous but with a sense of deep foreboding underlying the whole effort. One to be taken in the right frame of mind but a great duality of uplifting and worrying tones, when the mood suits.

22 - Russian Circles
- Station
From the post-metal beginnings of Enter, the band have taken a sharp left turn and veered over the carriageway onto Post Rock Drive. None the worse for it, the songs here breathe gloriously, build gently, and of course rock furiously on the few occassions they're let off the leash. Whether or not they stay on this course will be interesting to hear, although the fact that they stand up proudly in a genre close to saturation point is all the more to their credit.

21 - The Raconteurs -
Consolers of the Lonely
A surprise addition to the release schedules in March, only a week notice was given for this follow up effort to 2006's excellent Broken Boy Soldiers. A bit more grandiose and ambitious, this one can at times stray a little too far from the simple, loveable pop-rock that made that record so fun. Even so, Salute Your Solution caters for that crowd quickly and effectively, where as some of the grander numbers like Rich Kid Blues and The Switch & The Spur do add an interesting style-twist but retain the all important hooks. After getting used to the change in approach, this one recovers to be a thoroughly enjoyable affair.

I'll get the artwork and links up here shortly for these, then onward to the big hitters in my year. I know, the anticipation is only marginally below that of US election night......patience is a virtue. Whether this is as important historically, of course, only future generations will decide. Close call.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Narrow Misses

Having started late on the lists this year, the last week and a bit has seen my listening heavily revolve around: 1) summarising what the bloody hell was released in 2008 and 2) figuring out whether the albums that sounded great at the start of the year hold up further down the line. Having done that, I'm chuffed to have now finished it all up and can get to the satisfying bit of posting everything up soon, closing off the year, looking forward to what's upcoming in 2009, then realising I've forgotten/missed/changed my mind on approximately 4,000 albums from '08. Such is the nature of the self-indulgent year end best of.

It being Boxing Day (regardless of the blatant refusal to acknowledge it with a public holiday in the US.....for shame), I still have too much Christmas cheer in me - in cookie form, not beer unfortunately - to spend ages counting down the albums, so I'll simply prologue it now with the laughingly overblown tag of 'Honourable Mentions'. Albums that were high up in the listening tracks at some time but for whatever reason didn't quite scale the heady peaks of my entirely uninfluential top 30. To wit:

The King Blues - Save the World, Get the Girl
A fun, very British listen. Given more time it might rank higher but not all tunes are as superb as the title track.

The Bronx - III
Crazy. This should probably be in my top 10 but it was only released last month and I haven't found it on iTunes or any record stores....unfathomable really but there you go.

Textures - Silhouettes
Along with Meshuggah, these guys released a supremely schizophrenic, engaging metal outing here. Just marginally shy of nudging out a few others.

Rise Against - Appeal to Reason
Standard fare Rise Against really, but they do it so well. 'Hero of War' is stirring and the usual fast-paced, politically charged content is it was in '06,'04, and '02 before that.

Weezer - Red Album
I've heard all these tracks in a disjointed way, a stream here and a download there. As always, they've included some untouchable pop-rock songs that everyone has heard by now. Probably more my fault for not putting it all together and listening to the album as a whole.

Portico Quartet - Knee Deep in the North Sea
Officially a 2007 release but I downloaded it in September '08, on the basis of it being in the Mercury '08 nominations and them playing Jools Holland in '08. So there. Smooth as a silk kitten jazz that is perfect for the wee hours.

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
Sold a million plus in the first week......just not to me. 'A Milli' got me hooked recently and I like the unhinged, alternative arrogance of the rhymes used. Hip hop/rap's poorly represented on my list this year, which may not have been quite so much the case if I'd picked up on this one a bit earlier.

British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
One of the first albums I picked up this year and, whilst it still has some of the endearing qualities of 'Open Season', I found myself rarely coming back for repeat listens. My first surprise of the year, as I was expecting some significant evolution here. Oh well.

Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off Lavendar Bridge
Pleasant enough with some enjoyable, simple indie pop songs. Not that remarkable, though.

- s/t
See post from a few days ago. This is US radio rock fare but doesn't lose anything for being so.

Hot Chip - Made in the Dark
Great singles, doesn't make for a full album to come back to for me though.

Grails - Take Refuge in Clean Living
Not bad but suffers from being in the shadow of last year's outstanding 'Burning Off Impurities'.

Cadence Weapon - After Party Babies
See Grails but substitute album title for 'Breaking Kayfabe'.

Blood Red Shoes
- Box of Secrets
Some great singles but another band I should have tried harder with, both on disc and live. My bad, lass and lad.

- Black Ice
Haven't listened to all of it, so can't justify it being higher. Fair play on the amazing comeback though......the world needs simple, boozy rawk n roll like this!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Orwellian Nightmare

Despite having heard that phrase throughout my days, it's not something that I really understood well conceptually until a few years ago. I'm pretty sure music somehow started the education process in this area, as with so many others, yet the exact path of research escapes me. To date I've not read 1984 but, given my painfully slow progress through Moby Dick after Mastodon's conceptual use for 'Leviathan' (currently on page 341....they haven't even seen the White Whale yet), I'll get around to it during the next decade.

The reason for all this preamble, aside from the joy I experience in taking too many words to reach the point of anything and everything, is to introduce Innerpartysystem, a band whose name derives from the elitist class in Orwell's famed, totalitarian vision of the future. Having ploughed through the s/t album a few times, I can gain a vague feeling of this influencing the music, such as the conflict described on 'Everyone is the Same' and the eerie, claustrophobic electronics that close out the album on 'Soundscape'. Chiefly though I think they just happened upon a damn cool monicker and ran with it.

The band hail from Pennsylvania and also came to my attention as they're touring pretty extensively in the US, then UK, early next year. This includes a stop at Cleveland's Grog Shop, a venue of which I have fond memories and to which I must return before our lives carry us on to le Grande Pomme de Terre. They reputedly have a pretty solid live show, backed up by manic strobing lights, which I can see complimenting their driving, electronic rock audi o pretty well. Stylistically they have a Filter/Stabbing Westward-hued sound, given a good polish in the same way that Linkin Park used to achieve (in)famousness. Whilst the latter might not have the more discerning alt-rocker rushing for the links below, I can confirm it does actually pan out effectively. In fact, I've listened to so much lo-fi, "real" indie on LastFM radio recently that I was more than ready for something as slick as these guys. Maybe you feel the same?

Monday, 22 December 2008

Do You Remember the Tiiiiime?

Wow, so that time girl really does fly don't she? A lack of summer buying/gigging left me with not so much to write about, followed by an extended period without t'internet leaving me unable to knock anything out if and when I was able to pick up something interesting. So here we are, close to the year end, with of course the inevitable lists bringing myself (and who knows how many other e-ramblers) back to the blogs. The new year promises much but as we're not entirely done with this one yet, much remains to be said and I'm glad I'm back on here pre-2009 to catch up on some missed babbling.

That said, my lists are still being calculated by a complex set of statistical algorithms (read: 3 columns and an arbitrary rating scale in Excel), so this is simply a return to the noble art of spotlighting an artist. Namely, Little Boots.

I first caught this Blackpool lass performing on Jools Holland a couple of months ago now, so it's taken me a little while to follow up the initial pique in my interest. She bashed out a firey little uptempo number called 'Meddle', with the eye-catching combination of piano and stylophone. I was dubious at first but it was so passionately played and catchy that you couldn't help being drawn in. Having downloaded said tune and streamed a couple of others, I can heartily recommend her efforts to all and sundry, especially with the Lancashire connection making her more and less a local artist (sort of......kind of....a bit). The sound is of the du-jour electro-pop variety but with some neat twists and turns that give a nod towards the slightly unhinged element of The Dresden Dolls too. All of which works excellently on the few songs around at the moment.

There's no album out as yet but the (now rare) vinyl Arecibo EP can be purchased on your favourite random indie site, such as this one or, if the Crunch is really hitting home, a nifty mix tape can be obtained gratis by signing up to her mailing list here. Consider it an early Christmas present.......certainly far better than some of the jumpers you're to receive shortly from the Aunt you can barely recall meeting.

Happy Holidays!

Little Boots Myspace

Friday, 27 June 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties - Saturday Review

Owwwwwwwwwwww. First night reveling impacts on ones second day wake up.....duly noted (though likely forgotten by the next ATP). The perfect way to readjust into enthusiastic music mode? How about eating your brekkie to the sight of The National setting up over on the main stage? Yep. that'll do it.

After a brief jaunt around the hills of Exmoor, including a few hours searching for the semi-famous mini ponies, we returned to the site for the first must-see of the day; Saul Williams (8). Decadently garbed in feathered headdress and war paint, set off against a plunging v-neck that would make Eddie Izzard double-take, the enigmatic beat poet is off to a fine start before we even consider the tunes. Which are solid, if not entirely engaging from start to finish. The energy and visual aesthetic of his show can't be faulted though and start things off nicely.

A short stroll past the main stage then affords us a quick check on A Hawk & A Hacksaw (7) whose eclectic instrumentation and folk-laden songs are an interesting, if not captivating diversion. Next comes one of the most diverse set clashes of the weekend, with Okkervil River vying against Ghostface Killah for attention. The former guarantee an excellent show but having seen them in Liverpool last December, and never having seen a hip-hop act live, I definitely needed to catch some of the latter's set. Starting out with Okkervil (8.5), I planned to hang out for around half the set and dash upstairs for the rapping thereafter. This proved difficult to achieve, as Will Sheff and the boys knock out some superb songs from 'The Stage Names' and the promise of new material also hangs in the air. Their stage presence is strong and the songs breathe wonderfully live, but eventually I bite the bullet and wander off into the unknown. The first sight that greets me is a (perhaps) unknown rapper taking to the stage and pulling off some pretty sharp wordplay. Not bad, thinks I. As it turns out, though, there are only two songs remaining in the set and a good 10 minutes is taken up with getting the laydeeeez up on the stage to gyrate to 'Greedy Bitches'. Not entirely unexpected, perhaps, but the whole episode deteriorates into a mass stage invasion and incoherent yelping from the various MC's onstage, making me wonder if Ghostface (6) was really worth missing the remaining Okkervil songs. C'est la vie.

The Centre remains the venue as ...Trail of Dead (9) put in a trademark blistering set as we move into the evening. More classics are aired than usual, with a triumphant 'Mistakes & Regrets' making them push the floorboards to their heaving limits. After regaining breath and despite the promise of another potentially electrifying set from Dinosaur Jr. in this very room, we return to the Pavilion stage for the unmissable The National (9.5). Happily, anticipating these guys so feverishly proves not to be a mistake, as they roll through some amazing highlights from the last two albums 'Alligator' and 'Boxer'. Every song is delivered with a passion that many bands only dream of, with the vocal and lyrics of Matt Berninger adding the final, exhilirating touch. A climax of the usual closer 'Mr November' lifts the atmosphere to fever pitch and, right in the centre of the weekend, serves as a fitting high point of the event overall.

Normally this would be more than enough for one nights entertainment, but ATP being no ordinary affair we still have the promise of Battles closing out the night with some hybrid late night alt-rock/rave shenanigans. Stars of the LidTo whittle away the hour or two until that time, I venture over to Reds to see the acoustic stylings of Lazarus (8.5). After the highs of The National and all the stage presence they bring to the large crowd, this intimate little showing to a few people, by one man and his guitar, is an intriguing offset. Every song drips with longing and regret, garnering impressed applause as he finishes and leaving everyone noting the name for further investigation at the merch stand on Sunday.

Rounding out the evening are the aforementioned Battles (9). Having seen them fairly recently, a solid live show was expected but the hour was late and the energy of earlier performances wearing off, so the fact that they inspired a full hour of pure crowd participation and bouncing is testament to the quality of their efforts. They rally through already-classics from 'Mirrored', including the other-worldly chimes of 'Atlas' and the frenzied charge of 'Leyendecker', bringing about (and feeding off) a resurgent audience adrenaline rush. The whole thing is repeated the following evening as the penultimate act of the weekend, but with the punters still fully tuned into the event and this seemingly being the first experience of the band for many, this is the set of choice and brings Saturday to another rousing close.

Now playing: Grails - Word Made Flesh
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, 31 May 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties - Friday Review

Having had a week plus back from holidays to digest the whole experience of ATP vs Explosions in the Sky, I feel suitably calmed to begin reviewing it. For the rest of the hols after the weekend, I was completely buzzing and wanting to get the next one on the horizon (which is frighteningly quick, given this new announcement). That's still the case, of course, but at least I'm no longer foaming at the mouth and miming Battles sound effects without cause or warning.

As planned, we blitzed the motorways during the morning and had very little trouble even on the last 30 A miles to Minehead. The reason was to get there in good time to set up and pitch on over to watch Constantines (7), who gave a brave first performance of the day to a newly arrived and slightly hesitant crowd. Still, as the beers began to flow and people shrugged off their day's travel, a holiday atmosphere kicked up and the straight up rock got some heads moving. I didn't recognise any songs but have only a loose grip on newie 'Kensington Heights' as reference, so it was left to solid grooves and driving guitars to draw me in. They did so well enough and I'd be interested in catching them again in a smaller club environment.

Next up was the first of many downstairs rushes to dig on the first main stage band, Papier Tigre (7.5). As evidenced in the archives here, I gave these Frenchies a good listening beforehand and was quite looking forward to them. They didn't disappoint, again getting the bodies moving somewhat to their angular but catchy Fugazisms. The crowd was still small - most remaining upstairs Centre Stage to watch Mono - but certainly appreciative. Their draw seemed to me to be in the intricacy of the two guitarists, underpinned by the tight drumming. Strikes me that it must be hard to get this type of music to be catchy as well, yet I patently came away humming the songs. Songs which I later chose to purchase from a merch lad who hopefully got the money to the band, after they seemingly abandoned their table. A brief note on Mono, whose last song I caught and seemed to have really stirred the crowd I'd briefly abandoned. Reliable sources tell me they were very good too, so things were off to a magical start.

The first big act of the night came next, as messrs Mascis and Barlow stepped up to the stage to begin the riff carnage of Dinosaur Jr (9). This was truly the start of the weekend in terms of pure walls of guitar. The '90's come flooding back over your senses as the riffs from both classic and current material are served up fresh and raw into your cranium. The musicianship in the wall of guitar sound is amazingly clear and effortlessly flawless. Guys that make it look this easy deserve some form of tin pot Royal medal really, but hopefully they're more than happy with the rapturous applause and adulation of the proper chuffed Centre Stage audience. A weekend highlight.........already.

Moving further into the night, the head honchos are on next for a surprisingly early appearance at their creation. As it happens, Explosions in the Sky (8) perform a majestic close to the main stage proceedings, without ever crossing into the removal of our breath. The sweeping guitar melodies and fragile silences mix well with the fading light and onset of dusk, with the Pavilion Stage providing a significant enough backdrop to close out the bigs boys and usher in the more frenetic, lesser known acts of the evening. A class effort.

Now, are The Octopus Project (8.5) worth the ever-expanding queue snaking away from the Reds stage......oh my yes. I'd not seen them before and was only marginally taken with their most recent outing 'One Ten Hundred Thousand Million', but I did fancy something upbeat in my newly energised mood, so I joined the heaving throng. Good decision. Aside from the nigh impossible task of obtaining a Guinness to accompany the music, this was superb with the band having tunes and energy to burn.
The jittery synths and breakneck electronica of the songs, added to the tacky Butlins late-night disco decor of the venue, made this set feel like the perfect mutant indie-dance party which so befits the ATP profile. The climax of the set for me is also the best summary of the weekend as a whole, a rapturous run through of 'Music Is Happiness'.

That could easily have been both the high point and end point of the evening but with 4 hours of music time still to run and this being the first day, the night was still young. Venturing back to the Centre, I find Ola Podrida (6) halfway through a gentle acoustic set. Nothing to set the world alight but a pleasant interlude nonetheless. I take some time to rub salt in the wounds of those put off by the masses and therefore missing the Octopus folks, then we're onto The Paper Chase (9). With bleach blonde front lad John Congleton swaying and hacking into his guitar, they rip into an utterly unhinged and intentionally disturbing set. From a band choosing such album titles as 'Hide the Kitchen Knives' and 'Young Bodies Heal Quickly, You Know', it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that these boys unearth dirty Americana and have backing rhythms that sound like blades being sharpened. Half cut in a mutated Butlins holiday resort on a rainy Friday night, however, the effect is sensationally multiplied. One of the surprise and standout performances of the weekend, sans doute.

Pretty far gone (not to mention mentally shaken) by this point, no one really wishes to move away from the plentiful beverages and sticky floor of the Centre stage, so we remain for the electonic DJ stylings of Four Tet (7). To be perfectly honest I only remember enjoying the club-like end to a superb first evening, which I can just about recall being very well mixed. This was more about a bit of drunken rambling and gushing over the nights entertainment though.........and with two days to go we had started off even better than anyone could have expected. Roll on Saturday!

Now playing: Tool - (-) Ions
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Pick a Bigger Weapon

Reasons to write about Cadence Weapon:

1) Playing Liverpool's SoundCity event tomorrow night at Alma de Cuba (supporting Santogold - take a goosy gander here) but a 23:00 - 02:00 schedule and I'm on earlies........what to do?

2) New album 'After Party Babies' was on my eagerly awaited list earlier this year but has been cruelly overlooked thus far due to an underwhelming first impression. Despite this, still more than good enough to review.

3) His song '30 Seconds' has long been an intended source of inspiration to write about ethical buying, multi-national company sourcing policy, and the inherent complications and hypocrisy thereof. Unfortunately that's about as coherent as I've achieved to date, so still waiting for a certain shade of green on this point.

4) ATP utterly overwhelmed me as a musical experience and I still haven't fully gathered my thoughts on all we took in. Then how to dissect it down into coherent band reviews.......argh, run for the safe hills of individual artist worship!

More than enough reason, I think you'll agree?

So this is a guy called Rollie Pemberton from Edmonton, aka Cadence Weapon. A freelancer, I think, for Pitchfork now releasing heavily electronicised hip hop at a rapid pace. Last year (or late '06 Stateside) saw his debut 'Breaking Kayfabe' race out the cage like a puppy who hasn't yet learned which leg goes in front of the other for successful walking.This was not to its detriment. The harsh electronic backings on songs like 'Sharks' and 'Vicarious' added a vibrancy to the staccato flow of the beats and rhymes. Granted, hip hop/rap is far from my area of expertise but I have dipped in regularly since being nudged that way by Method Man in the late '90's, so I at least know what I enjoy if little more. To wit, I like energy, passion/anger, and hopefully a sense of individuality. 'Breaking Kayfabe' had this in spades and is easily my favourite release in this genre in the last few years.

Cadence Weapon - Sharks

Moving onto newie 'After Party Babies' was exciting as I only really got the debut this time last year, so after only 9 months new material was an unexpected bonus. So initially the smooth flow of 'In Search of the Youth Crew' threw me somewhat. Following that, much of the album follows in the same vein, a much more coherent and streamlined listen. Perhaps that should be expected as an artist matures, but it wasn't what I was hoping for on the surface.......surely most rappers do this, so moving towards it loses some of that critical identity creation? Well, maybe not. Further listens reveal more of the character and lyrics that made Kayfabe excellent, it's just more subtle and well directed. Most of the static electricity has been replaced by a well regulated supply of power, but it still lights the bulb more reliably.

On balance, I'll still plump to listen to the debut album if only 50 minutes to spare and the two loaded on my iPod, but the happy news is that the sophomore outing is a grower and may yet elicit even more personality. Put '30 Seconds' and 'The New Face of Fashion' back to back, though, and tell me which one best gets the blood pumping.

Now, back to that dissection of ethical commerce.......errr, maybe figuring out ATP will be easier, on head hurts.

Official Site

Buy Buy

Multiple freebies
....nice man

Now playing: Cadence Weapon - We Move Away
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 15 May 2008

At Tomorrow's Party

The National are the band I'm most anticipating at ATP, on the basis of them building slowly and soundly in my heart over the last 2 years. Initially, I had a few mp3's that I thought I should certainly check out more, when the chance arose, from which I grew into piecing together Boxer from eMusic, getting Alligator this past Christmas from my good lady, and now needing to dig into the first two releases and see them live. They have a rich, layered sound that bends from silky smooth to wildly unstable, which continues to surprise me. Lots of love to these guys and more afterwards I'm sure.

Official Site

Buy buy

Now playing: The National - Mistaken For Strangers
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A Trivial Pursuit?

Not that they're not well-known enough, but Okkervil River will often float under the radar initially. First listens elicit only a general feeling of pleasant indie tunes, rooted in gentle acoustics and Americana vocals. Keep listening, though, and each song has the most intricate, layered feel that you could wish to hear. Their songs have a subtle beauty, with unobtrusive yet effective instrumentation that adds to their charming calm. That's one facet, then you'll also stray across the more upbeat, rocking Americana. The best example would be to stick 'Savannah Smiles' on next to 'Unless It Kicks', then pick out the similarities despite the variation in pace. Then see them live.....that's fun too.

So, although I caught these guys at the Carling in Liverpool late last year, I'm very much enthused at the chance to see them again this Saturday on the ATP bill.

Official site


Okkervil River - Savannah Smiles / Unless It Kicks

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

All Tigres Papier?

Today's spotlight falls upon the shadowy French figure (think the start of Pink Panther - da da, da da....etc) of Papier Tigre, a band that have solely come to my attention thanks to a late addition up the ATP bill. In fact, they're one of the very first on this Friday, which makes it all the more exciting that they're a bit special.

Their tunes at first seemed a bit stripped down, but soon I realised where that wonderful familiarity in the sound stemmed from.......Fugazi! They have a terrific off-kilter, angular approach to their music that grows with each passing listen, so that now I'm really rather thinking that Friday morning blast down the M6/M5 might need to be notched up to 90mph, thus ensuring these boys and The Constantines are seen.

A pleasant discovery, hopefully only halfway fulfilled.........

Papier Tigre - Writing On the Wall

Now playing: The Constantines - Hard Feelings
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Anti-Terrorism Pact?

The party starts here! Well, not really but this is the build up week to ATP pour moi, although the listening began in earnest over the last two weeks. I've been wanting to attend one of these niche, anti-festivals for a good 5 years and this weekend it comes to fruition.

Excitedly informing colleagues that I'm going to this acronym festival generally elicits only vague recognition at best, confused/fearful stares at worst, so I'm taking it upon myself to showcase a few of my most anticipated bands from the line up here this week.The first being Battles.

I saw these boys in Liverpool last August, so I have an idea what's coming, but the beauty here is that they're playing not only two sets across 3 days, but also that one of them is a blast through '
til 3am on a Saturday night. Futuristic robot rock soundtracking an elongated drinking session into the wee hours of Sunday morning.......well it's my idea of a blinder anyway. The song that pulled me into them was the 7 minute plus, Clanger-vocalised 'Atlas', after which the rest of their 2007 album 'Mirrored' all fell into place. They're sure to put on a couple of very differing but innovative sets, all based on the pinpoint rhythm (and exceedingly high hat cymbal) of John Stanier's drumming talents. Ace.

Official site

Battles - Atlas

Now playing: Exit Ten - Softwatch
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Pick 'n' Mix

Today being my day of birth and hence a day off, I've spent much of it schizophrenically hopping from tune to tune to soundtrack odd jobs around the flat. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that it got me thinking about the effects of the digital 'revolution' and the knock ons to our listening habits.

The big scoop, of course, is that we're all listening to single tracks now. Everyone can consume the artist in Chinese buffet style portions, meaning we can try a little bit of lots rather than, errr, a lot bit of little. Which is an ineloquent way of saying that the hit is king. Make a show stopping single and you're on your way baby, people will lap it up as they don't have to pay through the nose for the the lesser songs. Is this a good thing?

On the one hand, we might find that bands can get away with less 'fillers', which is inarguably positive. Sure, you could buy a single previously and not pick up the album, but what if there are two or three hits on that release? The few singles mount up to just shy of album price, hence the fan will pay a couple more quid to get the whole shebang......then find the true reason that the other three were singles. Cynical but certainly not uncommon, especially in the world of throwaway pop bands. Now that the listener can preview and select only the tracks that they think are worthwhile, perhaps the emphasis will be for bands to create to a consistently higher standard, eventually creating enough for a full quality album that flows well throughout. It could mean that we see more mini-albums and EP's, smaller projects that showcase the best work of a band and cut out the fat.

That would be interesting and not entirely a downside for me as a listener, but the negative as I see it is a trend towards only singles. The lost art of making an album. As much as the traditional requirement for 10 -15 songs may push artists towards filler territory, it's also the form that allows bands like Neurosis, Tool, Mastodon, Deftones, The Mars Volta - to name
too infinitesimally small a number - to create masterpieces over 50 - 60 minutes. Can anyone fathom how Ænima could be distilled into only 10 minutes? How would they cram spoken word German detailing a recipe for deviled eggs down into a hit single?? Fair cop, bad example. Point is, album length is required for some bands to be at their creative peak. It would be dispiriting to see artists increasingly pushed towards making that instant track at the expense of musical adventure.

Perversely, I've found that getting all my tunes into one program has made me more likely to listen all the way through an album. The play count visualises the balance of how one listens to the album, which made me realise that I was listening to a lot of bands in a front loaded fashion. In some case this is perfectly justifiable, as the second half is shite due to aforementioned filler. Often, though, I was simply demonstrating the Gen-X led tendency of ADD listening, thereby missing out on some killer album endings. So I'm currently tending to choose the shuffle option if I'm feeling indecisive, but enjoying a full album more often when I have the time and attention to do so. The latter I find is the more audiophile, engrossing way to take in music, where the real passion and love for a band is formed. This is also the reason I hope the album as a work of art and musical expression continues to thrive.

This does come full circle by reminding myself that I went entirely against the above today and flitted from album to album like a musical magpie, attracted to the next shiny tune that flashed into my peripherals. To ensure this ends with some musical end product, I'll get some of the tunes that I covered together and post them up shortly. Jumping from Meshuggah to Midlake is surely not a sensible option, though.....?

Meshuggah - Combustion
Jr. Juggernaut - Believe In Something
Motion City Soundtrack - When You're Around
Yeasayer - 2080 (Live on Jools Holland Later...)
Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene (stream)
Midlake - Head Home
Jane's Addiction - tbc
Nickel Creek - tbc
Handsome - tbc

Now playing: Grails - Soft Temple
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 5 May 2008

Monday Memory: Pitchshifter

Pitchshifter have a special place in the blackened metal heart of my teens, as one of a clutch of British metal bands that first made me feel excited about the UK scene. Along with Dub War, One Minute Silence, Pulkas, and Bullyrag, they toured regularly and released albums that in the mid to late '90's sounded cutting edge and turned me onto a variety of sounds and styles.

The most memorable of the 3 or 4 times I saw them live was at a converted church in St. Paul's, Bristol. It was something of a notorious area, partially for racial undertones, which added to the uncertainty of where I was going and what I'd see. As it turned out there was nothing dangerous, save the ear-destroying bass levels. Pitchshifter always delivered a high energy, pounding set that revelled in railing against their pet hates. And with the monarchy and recently elected Labour government at the top of their shit list, it gave the kids something much closer to home at which to vent our undefined angst. More importantly, though, we got to crash into each other like a game in the Derby FC defence.

They're still fusing their distinct drum n bass-tinged rhythm section to serrated metal guitars to this day, as far as I'm aware, so below are then and (almost) now live clips to show they more than still have it. A cracking British band that I loved growing up with and whose music still sounds urgent and relevant today.

VIRUS - Live 1998


Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Gently Does It

Sometimes you just need to take things down a notch. Sometimes, everything is too loud and fast and overwhelming......all you want is to slow it all down, catch your breath, imagine some place where it's just you and your thoughts at whatever pace they choose to flow. In the absence of unlimited funds to fly oneself off to a remote, secluded 'happy place', music is the perfectly acceptable alternative. And a sofa or bed, obviously. I often have trouble picking out the perfect band to soundtrack this mental comedown - some too melancholy, some too upbeat and energetic in places - ......enter Midlake.

I've had their uniquely satisfying 'The Trials of Van Occupanther' for over a year now and it first came out well before that in 2006, yet it's only really now that it's becoming clear how best to take it in. Previously it struck me as a perfectly good, restrained slice of lo-fi indie, not much more or less. This last few weeks have required something to help my mind drift off without direction or purpose, though, and this has been the perfect tonic. Gently, unobtrusively, the whole album winds through heart-warming folk tales, unassuming at first but which reveal a little more as and when you choose to listen in greater depth. If that's too much, the simple melodies are enough to just carry off the weight of the world.

There's not much more to consider here, just a warm recognition of a band that have subtly crept into my regular listening and found their very own niche. My favourite albums are those that slow burn their way into your awareness over many months and years, eventually occupying a special place in the collection. 'The Trials of Van Occupanther' is another happy addition.

Official Site

MP3: Head Home

Now playing: Midlake - In This Camp
via FoxyTunes