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

Monday, 28 April 2008

Monday Memory: File Under 'Face Melting'

In 2003, I was living out in the wild Rockies of Colorado, more regularly enjoying the adrenaline of chucking down a mountain on a plank of plastic than that of seeing a ferocious live band in full flow. Fair enough, I did regularly make the 7 hour round trip to Denver - a short punt down the road by Yankee standards - on numerous occasions to catch larger bands.....but my fill of small, nasty clubs and bands pulverising their audience from 2 feet away was poorly serviced.

Get outta town........

Step forward The Suicide File. If I recall correctly, I was in town for an office supplies conference, so of course the excitement was already at fever pitch, but these Boston boys managed to push it all the way over the edge. I tracked out to the ace little college town of Boulder (which I still miss....especially Pearl Records) to catch Every Time I Die playing a tiny club on 'the Hill', the name of which now escapes me (I know, the 'memory' bit of the blog title isn't well least it's Monday eh). I had no knowledge of the supports and was really only present that early as I didn't know what time the show started, so erred on the side of caution. Kerching, good choice!

The band wasted little time in pleasantries and simply ripped into a pulsating 30 minutes or so of vitriolic, shredding hardcore. I have limited love for that genre - or had, at the time - but this was something else and encapsulated why so many people get sucked into the scene. They absolutely raged through tracks like 'Ashcroft', 'Laramie' and 'Rum, Romanism & Tammany', only halting to lambast the scene of which they were unwillingly a part and instruct anyone who wanted merch to buy a CD for the songs, not t-shirts/trucker hats for scene points. I duly obliged and the short, sharp politicised commentary blasts on 'Twilight' still regularly pump through my speakers to this day.

Unfortunately, the band split up later that year but for me they remain a classic example of relentless touring and a ferocious live show being a key weapon in any rock band's arsenal. I had no need or expectation of seeing pure hardcore on my way to that I drove away that weekend, back up into the mountains, I knew it would resonate within me well beyond that one weekend. Cheers lads.

The few links you can find on the band are here, courtesy of the supoib Indecision Records.

Now playing: This Is Hell - You Are the Antithesis
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 27 April 2008

LIVE: Opeth / Manchester Academy 1 - 25/4/08

A somewhat muddled touring bill finds Opeth squeezed in between the humdrum chugga metal of Devildriver and the more palatable Swedish mega riffs of Arch Enemy. Quite why some clever bod has seen fit to dub this Defenders of the Faith, we can only speculate, but my money's on some half cocked attempt at religious irony.......whatever the case, the music is the real reason to be present tonight.

Missing openers 3 Inches of Blood due to the early doors (used literally for once, rather than colloquially), also passed on Devildriver because, well, cheap lager is frankly more interesting. Reports from others in the building range from "best band of the night" to "underwhelming", so my guess is it depends whether you enjoy standard fare metal or not. Arch Enemy are co-headlining this tour and topped the bill this evening, of which I caught about half the set. The core of their blistering metal has its foundations in the superb guitar work of Michael Amott, whose tight riffing and inventive licks give the songs an individuality they might otherwise lack. However, the main focus of my night was Opeth, who delivered and then some.

Having caught up with the bulk of older material in the past year (initially my earliest understanding of the band was only Still Life onwards), it was heartening to hear the intro to 'Demon of the Fall' belt out to announce the Swedish masters of dynamic black metal. With a back catalogue expanding into the double figures and consisting of many songs of which they could also say the same,there will always be glaring omissions from an Opeth set, yet tonight they cover a number of these releases. 'Master's Apprentices' whips up even more of a storm and hot on its heels is a frenzied 'The Baying of the Hounds'. The centre of the set comprises the glorious contrast of the delicate, hopeful 'In My Time of Need', offset by the following malevolent thunder of 'Wreath'
. These are taken from the intended double album of 'Damnation'/'Deliverance', which unfortunately got released a good year apart from each other due to major label buggering about, the juxtaposition here demonstrating exactly why they were intended for one full listen. Opeth's full range of emotions are expertly conveyed during this 15 minutes and done no further harm by excellent new track 'Heir Apparent', which fully whets the appetite for new album 'Watershed'. The best saved for last may be clich├ęd, but in the hands of this band and a captivating version of 'The Drapery Falls' - where it all started for me - it's simply the natural climax. The mournful opening, building to sweeping peaks and soul-searching nadirs, perfectly captures the essence of the band in one final hurrah.

Then they're gone, leaving only the prospect of a new album well over a month away and the hope of finally seeing an 'Evening with....' tour later in the year, so that we can simply revel in their atmosphere without distraction. A stunning set from a band that could interchange almost all the songs ten times and still not disappoint. Now where do I sign up for that autumn tour.......?

Now playing: Katatonia - Consternation
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

A Weekend of Bold Brits

This past weekend was something of a celebration of Brit rock (don't think Dodgy........DON'T) for anyone knocking about Liverpool's loudest loft, the Barfly. I still maintain that any self-respecting attic requires fibre wool and a Scalextric set to qualify, though that's a debate for another time. The point is this, in one weekend I was privileged enough to take in sets by:

In that order of preference, actually. Frank Turner's only getting better with age, despite (or, perhaps, perversely aided by) the fact that many of his songs fight with the world weariness of lost youth. Songs about jaded, semi-maintained rebellion and incomprehensible scenes were sung back to Frank like old friends at a 10 year reunion. In reality some of the songs have only been with us for a few weeks but they feel like classics. Buy his 'Love Ire & Song' release here and you too can feel the burn (and help out one of Britain's best individual songwriters to boot).

His supports were Ciara and Chris, as we're all on a friendly, folksy, first name basis. The former is an interesting, energetic young lass with a fine line in songs scorning love and mates who are "spoiled cunts". Some songs recall the cabaret style of Dresden Dolls but mostly the material is raw keyboard stuff with a darkly humourous lyrical content. After a beer, I enjoyed. Chris Titty didn't do so much for me. Perhaps his songs are better on disc but I didn't connect with the spirit of it all and thought the delivery lacked some oomph, to explore the depths of vocabulary. To be fair others gave him good cheers though, so far be it from me to shit on his Cornflakes. Like I said, Frank was ace and well worth catching on the tour he's apparently doing with the Holloways in May. Cheggidout.

So, onto Sunday and I missed a band called Cats & Cats & Cats, as I wished to watch footy and eat. Reliable source informs me they were quite good, hence the mention. Maybe I'll be earlier next time they play. If there's no footy on. Anyway, Errors from Glasgow then, well, moped onto stage really. Looking like the nether years between grunge and old emo (not nu-emo....or nemo......think backpacks/specs not gaunt/eyeliner), I was expecting some form of 'core. What actually emerged was rather intricate, electronic-led future rock, not entirely dissimilar to Battles with a less robotic sound. The drummer was loving it and keeping a tight rhythm, where as the singer/keyboardist had the look of Jarvis Cocker's less extrovert brother - at one point "Cheer up" is jovially offered from the crowd and returned with only a befuddled glance - but they definitely impressed.

Finally, my first time seeing Yorkshire folk ¡Forward, Russia! was an equally enjoyable way to finish off a weekend chock full of great British music. The songs on new album 'Life Processes', which I will endeavour to review up in here when it's further germinated in my brainbox, stack up nicely against debut faves like 'Twelve' and 'Nine' in an expectedly schizophrenic set. They exude a nervous energy throughout, although it's tempered and reined in during set highlight 'Nineteen'. I love this song on disc but it gains new beauty in a live setting, delicately building to a glimmering crescendo, only to fall away into a quiet introduction to the next angular, upbeat number. Mesmerising stuff.

All told a fabulous spring weekend of music and a welcome release from the rigours of the working week (that Against Me! - see last post - song rings through my head every time I write about this stuff). I haven't written much about live shows from Jan through March, so it's a testament to these bands' live ability that I'm drawn to wax off about them here. Long may it continue towards ATP in May.

Now playing: Lichens - M St R Ng W Tchcr Ft L V Ng N Sp R T
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Just Like James, Was Drinking Irish (Last Night)

So says I, after another blistering night on the black stuff and watching Against Me! at the Liverpool Academy, for the third time in as many years. They keep drawing me back, on the basis of a lethal cocktail combining hugely catchy, hook-laden punk songs with attitude and energy that's second to none.

This show was no exception, with only the omission of 'We
Laugh at Danger & Break All the Rules' detracting from proceedings. Other than that the set was chock full of massive songs, old & new. Kicking off with 'Up the Cuts', moving through 'New Wave', 'Pints of Guinness Make You Strong', and 'From Her Lips....', the set felt more like a Greatest Hits tour from an arena rock band than a small, sweaty club show with a political bent. 'Thrash Unreal' provided a set highlight for this fanboy, due to the rousing sing along of this cathartic lyrical section:

This night is gonna end
when we're damn well ready, for it to be over

worked all week long,
now the music is playing on our time.
Yeah we do, what we do, to get by.....

and then we need a release."

In essence, Against Me! always deliver an impassioned and memorable live show. Their songs resonate and their energy pushes them home with the kind of presence most bands can only dream of. I highly recommend catching these guys if the opportunity comes your way.

Check out some live footage that only hints at their engrossing show here: LIVE

And here's a live take on the one they
should have played last night.....I only forgive once ;-) MP3

Now playing: ¡Forward, Russia! - Don't Reinvent What You Don't Understand
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Love Me!

A quick shout for a band that announced themselves on my LastFM last month, Mountains Became Machines. Their singer Adam popped a complement ahead of a recommendation into my inbox, which whilst pleasant is usually the buttering up before the "dig my band!!" plea. Well, there's no point criticising when the recommendation is this well founded.....these Stoke boys play like thunder :-)

The songs are all past the 10 minute mark and form a debut EP which should be winging its way to my flat this week, so I'll save the details and review for then. Suffice it to say for the moment that this is sprawling rock in the vein of Pelican and edging towards the more metallic sounds of earlier Isis. First listens reveal a dynamic, huge wall of sound that covers enough bases to get me drooling at the prospect of listening to it properly (read: non-streaming). Well worth your attention if digging those references, keep eyes locked here for more wordage as it flows into my ears.........

Now playing: Agalloch - Falling Snow
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 7 April 2008

Monday Memory


That was how Amen would likely summarise their musical manifesto. They had a tune called 'Refuse Amen' and the word printed across their pectorals and those of anyone who bought their natty merch too, so it seems well evidenced. The band still evoke that intangible 'anti' feeling in my mind to this day too, at least on the eponymous debut and its even more vicious follow up We Have Come For Your Parents.

Their work after 2001 veered into more drip-fed releases, either at the gigs or through Casey's 'Refuse Music' label/site/thing, and arguably had less venom than the earlier stuff. Perhaps this was down to the rotating line-up or maybe over-saturation, as Chaos was a staple of the music mags in the early noughties - an NME cover showing how flaveur du jour were Amen at one point - but regardless, the DIY and anger has always been present.

There are rumblings of a more coherent band returning to the scene of the crime thi syear, what with Chaos' appearance on a Henry Rollins show last year (see below), so only time will tell whether they again approach the heights of the first two releases. Whatever happens, though, Amen will always be one of the very first bands I turn to when it all seems to be turning to shit. Refuse, indeed.

Amen - Justified (Live at Big Day Out 2002) - Lemming impression at 3:20

The Rollins Show - Recent performance of Coma America

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Apocalypse Now: MANES

Sometimes you have mp3's sitting within iTunes that somehow get a listen but remain overlooked. Usually these get the odd further play and are either deleted for better stuff or maybe get a stay of execution in case you fancy trying again for some reason in the future. On the odd special occasion, though, you'll have the volume up a bit louder and realise that you've been a fool in the intervening months of aural inactivity.........Norwegian outfit Manes is one such fortuitous reunion for me.

How the World Came to An End is a deep, brooding splicing of styles ranging from the more progressive end of metal, through trip-hop, industrial, and making stops at numerous other genre stations on its introspective journey to silicon hell. The result could so easily have been a disjointed, incoherent homage to their influences, yet it ends up as easily the most compelling record I completely overlooked last year. I'm pretty sure this would have broken my top 5 with little or no struggle, had I been sharp enough of ear to pick out the subtle beauty when released mid 2007.

Throughout the listen you might pick up traces of Nine Inch N
ails (and their accessible siblings, Stabbing Westward, with the lighter vocals), Portishead, Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, Massive Attack......the list of potential influences could just run and run. It all gels into a curiously dark, semi-apocalyptic atmosphere with brief glimpses of light to provide glorious sonic contrasts.

It's really a shame to pick out a single track, as the album is such a solid body of work that it should be experienced in its entirety. The track up here, Deeprooted, gives a decent idea of what's to come, though, with bleak, swirling electronica briefly giving way to redemptive guitar lines, boosted by soaring vocals, before falling back into digital oblivion. This just touches on the glory to follow, so I'd urge you to pick this up in whatever format your grubby little mitts prefer to snag music.

Manes - How the World Came To An End

Out on Candlelight Records - Buy buy


Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Tuesday Choon - The Raconteurs

Granted, this was all started to focus writing on the less blogged bands of the world - and, sure, to ramble at great length about obsolete bands from the dim & distant - but there have to be exceptions to prove the rule.......okay, think I got away with that one.

Truth is, there probably couldn't be a more bloggable release currently than The Raconteurs newie 'Consolers of the Lonely'. Released with only a weeks notice and coming from a band that started doing the blog rounds a good 9 months plus before their debut release, it's presumably now catch up time for the usually well prepared scourers of the interweb.

Naturally, there are suspicions raised when anyone tries to rush something out without critical build up. The band explanation is a fairly neutral one, in desiring to let the buying public decide how they wish to seek out this new set of tunes.....CD, digital, vinyl (crazy), the choice is yours! Well that's not exactly revolutionary, it still being out on a record label and through standard distribution and all, but who really cares when it's the music you've been waiting for? If it's shit, people will quickly cotton on and any initial gains would likely be shot to hell once word gets around.....which in today's terms can mean less than a day.

Thankfully, this isn't shit. It takes a couple of listens to get into and is still very simple, unchallenging rock with a classic '70's twist, but the
charm of debut 'Broken Boy Soldiers' remains. Most songs have a roots, Western tinge to them, hence the choice here of 'The Switch & The Spur'. It's a twisting, jangling run through the land of old time Clint Eastwood, punctuated with trumpet blasts and the odd rattlesnake maraca.

The Raconteurs - The Switch And The Spur

Buy buy buy


Now playing: The Raconteurs - Rich Kid Blues
via FoxyTunes