Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Homeward Bound - Part I

With so much pant-moistening music to cover, I've been raking the coals for new and varied umbrellas under which to shelter a clutch of artists (does that work as a collective noun? Perhaps a 'diva' of artists would be fun....? Suggestions on a postcard.....or e-card nowadays, I suppose). One slapped me in the face this morning and hence we arrive on the shores of my native Great Britain and some music from the Motherland. If it's nothing else - and it isn't - it's alliterative.

While we're at this lark, I'm pretty sure I can cover each of the distinct territories - England, N. Ireland, Scotland, and Wales - within this remit.....which should avoid any accusations of Limey bias. For the reported 78% of Americans without a passport, this will also serve as clarification that the UK does not simply comprise big ol' London and the small villages of Scotland and Wales. Would that it were so facile.

Starting the tour in Wales, home to plenty of big rock guns in its own right, Future of the Left probably don't qualify on that score. They are an exhilarating, spiky rock band one way or another, however. Being the band that followed on from the vital (and still most adored) McLusky was never going to be an easy task but these guys are making the case with some gusto. Following on from '07 debut 'Curses!', new album 'Travels With Myself And Another' is already readied and scheduled to fall from the skies this June. If it's not premature, I'm already feeling this one considerably more than the debut. As interesting as that one was, it often lacked some of the bravado we want from a band with this legacy. The new tracks have a leering swagger and punk confidence about them........this is going to be a big one, my waters - assuming blokes have them - are informing me.

Official Site

MP3: Future of the Left - The Hope That House Built
Taken from forthcoming album 'Travels With Myself And Another'

MP3: Future of the Left - adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood
Taken from 2007 album 'Curses!' - Buy (US on disc) /

MP3: McLusky - To Hell With Good Intentions
Taken from 2001's well and truly recommended album 'McLusky Do Dallas'
Buy (US on disc) / Buy (UK on mp3)

Moving swiftly through England - as most Welsh would advise you to do - we head North of the border into Scotland. The Jocks (or you can call them Scotch, they love that too....try it) are also responsible for some fantastic bands.....Aereogramme, Idlewild, Biffy Clyro all come to mind initially, as do The Proclaimers (chooooon).....and have a pretty strong contemporary track record. Adding to that list now are outstandingly monickered Glaswegians, We Were Promised Jetpacks.

The sound has a certain nod to the aforementioned Biffy Clyro but perhaps stays closer to the main road with their alternative streaked indie-rock. The distinctive Scottish brogue always adds an extra element to the vocal performance when used, which is clear and effective with these lads. The band is touring the UK during May and hitting fests like Wickerman this summer, so if you're lucky enough to be in one of the cities they're visiting, make it an extension of this here tour and go to give them some love. Me, I'm patiently waiting for an inevitable NYC showcase when someone influential champions then.

Official Site

MP3: We Were Promised Jetpacks - Ships With Holes Will Sink

So like any good British tour, you've travelled some way and should now be ready to drink in the nearest public house until you fall unconcious in your own drool. Wake up tomorrow afternoon with a pounding headache from the ale and we'll move back South of Hadrian's famed demarcation, as well as hopping over the Irish Sea for a brief spell. Don't miss the coach now.

"Come join, come join our hopeless cause,
Come join, come join our lost cause"

Now playing: McLusky - Alan Is A Cowboy Killer
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 27 April 2009

Plays of the Week

So, of course, having cursed this column with the tag of "regular feature" it inevitably failed to appear last week. Naturally, this is down to the fact that the music about to be featured makes more sense in one sonic amalgamut (cool title of an average Filter album, as opposed to an actual word one should use in polite society)......

........I think they bought that....on with the tunes before anyone realises..............

I'm still stuck in the conflict between filling gaps in my back catalogue (discs that I have no excuse for not owning, like Faith No More - The Real Thing....I know, right?) and picking up the best and the brightest releases of this year (don't worry, I won't be missing that new Isis). All this, set against the backdrop of consistently enjoyable but lesser known artists washing onto H-T-A's shores, contributes to a massive flood of music on which to report from a relatively small tap (or faucet, if you must). Which means there's even less time for rambling - oops - and onto the music:


For almost as long as I've held a Last FM account, this band's sardonic call to military youth, Die Jugend Marschiert, has topped my individual track charts. Despite this, I've never managed to pick up the album from whence it came, 'Potemkin City Limits'. I have the also excellent 'Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes' but nothing quite hits the immediate gut punch of said track. Even so, they have a new album out that's worth attention from anyone into independent punk with rock sensibilities (like Strike Anywhere or Anti-Flag? You're there). I'm sure lots of people love these lads already but have another listen to that song anyway......I mean, damn.

MP3: Propagandhi - Die Jugend Marschiert
Taken from 'Potemkin City Limits' - Buy

MP3: Propagandhi -
Supporting Caste
Taken from 'Supporting Caste' - Buy

The Thermals

My post earlier this month gave some indication that this might be a worthy summer soundtrack. Not entirely convinced on that link after a few more listens, due to the deeper lyrical nature of some of the songs - musing on the future of the world whilst lazing in the park with an ice-pop seems somewhat incongruous, to me at least - but Now We Can See is certainly a quality, accessible indie-rock album nonetheless.

Buy / Buy

MP3: The Thermals - Now We Can See

MP3: The Thermals -
I Know the Pattern (courtesy of Insound)

Hot Water Music

Ah, so here's a 'gap filler' as defined earlier on. 'A Flight & A Crash' has to be one of the albums that's been recommended to me more times than I've been asked which version of The Office I prefer (British one, by a small case you ever need it for a pub quiz). So I plugged that yawning collection hole last week and am pretty chuffed I did so. Right from the get go track of the same title, this is a firey, upbeat slice of post-hardcore/punk rock that must have influenced a slew of bands on the Gainesville scene around and after their time. Chuck Ragan's gravelly tones sound equally suited to this heavier sound as they do to his stripped down acoustic solo material, with which I'm more familiar. Worthy of a place alongside Far, Against Me!, and Alkaline Trio, if your music library contains such tuneage.

MP3: Hot Water Music - Paper Thin
Taken from 'A Flight & A Crash' - Buy


Another where the original post probably does more justice than a few sentences here, but it's worth noting that this s/t ep has tremendous replay value. Sometimes tunes from new artists can sound great but then fade on repeat listens, but this one keeps on keepin' on without needing a breather. One in the eye for the bigger guys! And he even thanked H-T-A here......infinitely preferable to having one's efforts unceremoniously binned for trying to spread the good word. Cheers!

J.E.L.L.i. - New Dimension vid stream - For these warm summer days we're about to receive
Track available on the J.E.L.L.i. ep - Buy (CD) / Buy (Digital)


Caribou produced gorgeous, spacious music with rousing melodic charm on the more recent 'Andorra', which brought me back to 05's 'The Milk of Human Kindness'. Only on the initial listens right now, but this seems like something of a different beast. With more lo-fi moments, intricate passages of synths passing over simple beats, and a less upbeat approach, this is less immediate but glows in a Boards of Canada way nonetheless. Another reward for eschewing the current hype and digging back with a known artist. Back to the summer question, though, because it's SO hot in NYC right need Andorra for these days. So buy both!

MP3: Caribou - Barnowl
Taken from 'The Milk of Human Kindness' - Buy

MP3: Caribou - Melody Day
Taken from 'Andorra' - Buy
(Both courtesy of Insound)

Well, if I had the time and inclination to go on I could talk about We Were Promised Jetpacks (guaranteed a post, on quality of name alone), The National, Absentstar, The Prodigy, Die Kinder........the list probably goes on for pages.

But, alas, time wears thin. This is a regular feature though, right? So there's plenty of opportunity for all that............ahem.

"White white walls and hospitals,
all of us feel trivial,
and relative,
tentative and waiting"

Now playing: We Were Promised Jetpacks - Ships With Holes Will Sink

Thursday, 23 April 2009

LIVE REVIEW: The Riverboat Gamblers / Fake Problems @ Knitting Factory, NYC

Reasons for attending this gig:

1) Been meaning to check out Fake Problems on both plastic and in flesh for over 1 year. Double fail, to date.

2) One of only a few left at the semi-legendary Manhattan
Knitting Factory location, before they up sticks and move (like everything else NYC musically-inclined) to Williamsburg.

3) The Riverboat Gamblers singer is several screwdrivers short of a complete tool set.

The final point alone makes it worthwhile dragging one's body out on a cold Tuesday evening, as the last time I saw this chap he was shouting in the face of some gobby, Warped tour-attending lass in Cleveland, OH. She had foolishly engaged him in a debate about the quality of his band's punk rock. Armed with a microphone and superior wit, the conflict was quickly resolved.

The point should also be made that, contrary to foolish Clevo heckler girl's assertion, the Gamblers peddle some of the most raw, energised live punk-rock this side of The Bronx. This may not be altogether clear on their more polished recent releases, but dig back a bit further and it makes more sense.

Starting with Fake Problems, though, and the band look somewhat different than I expected as they tool up onstage. I was envisaging something more like the rough and ready appearance of Against Me! but there are far more instruments and the singer looks like he's just finished studying for his Chemistry exam, ready for some warm milk and an early night. The visage is deceptive though and they kick into a tight live set with quite some verve and passion. The use of trumpet and string instrumentation plays off quite nicely on the first few songs, setting off the furiously shredded guitar tones effectively. The band quickly begin to sound very similar from song to song, however, and my attention begins to wane. Whilst they can't be faulted for effort, my recollection was of some quite memorable material which just doesn't come across live. A mixed bag.

Which all means that The Riverboat Gamblers need to produce in order to save this from being just another forgettable midweek show. I really need not have worried. A huddled cheering session emanates from the dressing room, enthusiastic screams, shortly followed by the band bursting onto stage and we're off.

What follows is a non-stop display of beer-fuelled, high octane punk-rock, with the musical emphasis on the rock and the attitude on the punk. Mike Wiebe is a queer character, clad in garish pink jumper and 'sensible' corduroy trousers and shorn of the lank, grebo locks that were so in the face of the beloved heckler mentioned earlier. His hair obviously didn't contain his powers, though, as he bounces off the narrow stage walls, into band mates, monitors, and often off stage entirely into his adoring crowd.......well, 4 people enthusiastically mouthing all the words, if you want to be specific, but adoring nonetheless.

The band tear through cracking old cuts like Last to Know and Hey! Hey! Hey! and happily manage to make the more shiny newies from 'A Choppy Yet Sincere Apology' sound equally vital. That title track and Alexandria in particular showcase the band's ability to take a catchy pop-punk song, double the speed and volume, and create an energetic punk-rock tune. Rarely does the approximately hour long set slow up, allowing only time for brief refreshment and a crack at their less savvy New York buddies - who insisted this venue no longer existed - before we're off again into the next 2 minute scorcher. Highlights for me are predictably from the older stuff - Rattle Me Bones and What's What - but the whole shebang is a smile inducing success.

As with many punk-tinged bands, on stage is where
The Riverboat Gamblers really come to life. The records give you an idea but can't replicate the energy and enthusiasm shot into the arm of the live show. Add $3 PBR's and a mucky, DIY venue to the mix and you're onto a winner. Good times at the old Knitting Factory. Here's to the new one replicating more like this one.

The Riverboat Gamblers Official Site

Fake Problems
Official Site

MP3: The Riverboat Gamblers -
A Choppy Yet Sincere Apology
Taken from new album
'Underneath the Owl' - Buy

MP3: The Riverboat Gamblers - Rattle Me Bones

Taken from 'Something to Crow About' (Highly recommended!) - Buy

Now playing: Madness - Baggy Trousers
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Rust In Peace

I posted a couple of months back about Doves new release, 'Kingdom of Rust', being on the horizon. Time being the winged beastie that it is, that moment has already been, gone, and left a note to say why it had to leave before you woke up. I feel used.

Tedious metaphors aside, I've only heard online streams of album cuts thus far, but it's as lovely, understated, and full of British soul as one has come to expect from
Doves. Jetstream is a fired up, floating on air (obviously) opener, whilst Winter Hill is yet another wandering, beautiful ode to what is generally considered the bleak, greying North West of England.

Much of their material touches the roots of this Manchester-bred band, walking the line between the melancholy of what can be a grim place to live and the simultaneous pride, born of hailing from an area with such history and character. Between
Doves and their brethren Elbow, a pretty wonderful soundtrack to the North exists.

With that in mind, this affords an opportunity to look back at some of the highlights of previous albums, as well as a video taster for this newie. I have fond memories of Some Cities soundtracking my initial steps towards starting life in Liverpool, so it's pleasant serendipity to have 'Kingdom of Rust' with which to (hopefully) associate some memories of NYC 2009 for future nostalgic reflection.

With any luck, this will be the release that does for these lads what
The Seldom Seen Kid achieved for Elbow. In much the same way - and possibly to a greater extent - there can be few bands in the UK that deserve it more at this point.

Doves Official Site
> Touring UK late April/early May, followed by US dates. Be sure to catch them if you can.

Video: Doves - Winter Hill (Live session for BBC Radio 2)
Song from 'Kingdom of Rust' - Buy

MP3: Removed by request
'The Last Broadcast' - Buy

MP3: Removed by request

'Some Cities' - Buy

Now playing: Hot Water Music - Old Rules
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 19 April 2009

REVIEW: Mastodon - Crack The Skye

Some reviews require time to fully digest the album. Time to decide whether or not the mixture of individual quality in certain songs melds together with the less familiar tunes, to form one cohesive and satisfying piece of sonic diversion.

And some simply trample all over one's expectations in the best possible way, demanding an immediate expulsion of opinion.

With Crack the Skye, I managed to hold off on the latter despite this being a situation of just that kind. This is an astonishingly immediate album but one that retains all the depth and intricacy of its forebears. Loaded with an epic concept, densely layered music, and songs spanning up to 13 minutes, this is an album that deserved more time to ensure as much of the effort as possible was covered. Still, it's bloody hard to reign oneself in on music so good......particularly when you've got so caught up in the spacial riffs of The Czar that you've missed your subway stop as a result.

The album sets out with the ominous chimes of Oblivion, one of the early leaks onto the net and one that I couldn't help but download earlier this year. In general I would prefer to keep albums such as this one big surprise on - or near, I'm still human.....sorry to torpedo any nascent faiths that have sprung up around H~T~A - their release date. It doesn't detract though, really, as this one is followed by the equally familiar single Divinations, which forms an effective, accessible springboard into the more epic sections of Crack the Skye. The former is a slow burner that winds from semi-threatening tones to soaring, stoned psychedelia. By contrast, the latter bursts into a driving riff, thunderous rhythm section, and the most memorable refrain of the album in "No Escape / Binding Spirits / No Escape / Trapped in Time Space", which evokes exactly the required imagery for the somewhat claustrophobic and other-worldly nature of the song (and, in fact, the entire album). Quintessence maintains the pace but takes on a more hopeful, contemplative edge that feels like it's somehow leaving the troubled earthly times of the first two tracks behind.

The Czar is the centre piece of the album and supremely summarises - if you can call 10+ mins a summary - all that is epic and powerful about Mastodon's approach to song writing. Broken down into four segments, it chronicles the story of Rasputin from his influence on Tsarist Russia during the Great War through to his murder, spiritual release, and continued influence on his countrymen after his death. Although feeling partially diverting from the central theme of spirituality and the journeys taken outside of common perception (dreams, collective conciousness etc), this one does rejoin towards the end of the song with its exploration of the travel after death ("Spiralling up through the crack in the sky"). This minor diversion, however, never detracts from the quality of the musicianship. Contrasting styles are woven expertly together with what seems to be effortless playing from Kelliher and Hinds, all the while underpinned by the low end rumble of Troy Sanders' bass work and the machine-sharp drumming of Brann Dailor. The latter is particularly noteworthy here, throwing in fills and breaks wherever possible without ever losing the underlying rhythm, over which the guitars so intricately play. The song could be dissected into far more than four sections, with each instrument having its own story within these and the vocals being more heavily layered than a Jamie Oliver lasagna. Suffice it to say that it showcases exactly why Mastodon are the premier metal band of the day.....and so much more beyond that.

Ghost of Karelia and Crack the Skye bring the track times down to a more common duration again but remain epic in scope, covering weightier areas of the concept such as the empty desolation that can occur with reflections on spirituality and the spectre of death that haunts even the positive aspects of spritual release into which the band are attempting to peer. The latter in particular accesses raw emotional reality for the band, specifically the death of Dailor's sister Skye at the age of 14. This being Mastodon, there are no clear lyrical conclusions to be drawn on how dealing with this loss has informed the overall concept. Instead, the music is left to convey the emotion and achieves this in spades. There's hope, despair, vulnerability, rage, and countless other expressions present in the title track alone, all astoundingly pieced together and avoiding any kind of sprawl that should by rights have emerged by this point.

The album closes out with the The Last Baron, another slow burning monster that occasionally runs free to express a variety of feelings. The lyrics here are a little more revealing, seeming to display a need for a figure to guide through the uncertainty of ending mortality ("Ghost of Man surround me in my slumber / I have no fear as your wing is my shelter"). The nebulous feeling and need for comfort is taken further by the music, often veering off into vague and seemingly random directions, only to return to the root of the song first heard as it opened. Even at this late stage, the band still plays with all their heart and layers everything together with a proficiency that beggars belief. Such is the hallmark of 'Crack the Skye' throughout.

To the question of this being the best Mastodon album to date, it's difficult to judge with such a strong existing catalogue. For the full raging Mastodon experience, I prefer 'Remission'. For the most accessible, 'Leviathan' remains the release with the biggest riffs and immediate songs. Even the bizarre 'Blood Mountain' wins out in a contest based purely on psychedelic headfuck value.

It is 'Crack the Skye' that melds all these brilliant releases into one sprawling yet immediate concept album, however. For that reason, it probably does constitute the band's most impressive achievement to date, not to mention one of the finest albums that this year is likely to see in any genre.

Like Tool and, well, not very many others to be honest, this band is capable of releasing consistently outstanding albums that never betray their style yet somehow continue to develop it. For this we can only be grateful once again and the best way to demonstrate thanks is to buy a useful set of headphones and get lost in this album. As with its sprawling and sometimes vague concept, 'Crack the Skye' effectively transports the listener away to another place, awash with mixed emotions and altered reality. Press play early on in the journey, though, as it's all too easy to return to one's own reality with a bump.......several subway stations closer to Harlem than expected.

Offical Site

Buy it at Insound!'s worth noting quickly that Mastodon begun their journey on Relapse, an outstanding independent label that most will probably know but should definitely be checked out, if not. All things extreme are located here, so if you're an indie-rock regular looking to dig into the grimy underbelly of metal from Mastodon downwards, these guys have all sorts to offer you........

Now playing: Mastodon - Quintessence
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Étrange Mélange

About 3 hours ago this was intended to be a fire-breathing review of the epic new Mastodon album. However, I've ended up simply revelling in the band's entire back catalogue and made a convoluted mess of all the thoughts that were rolling around my mind box.

So, rather than waste this gloriously schizoid session of jumbled thoughts and sideways steps, I figured I might as well run with it and post some strange mix of news, opinion, and interweb amusements. It's on:

  • Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, along with Jenny Lewis, appear to have a free show in NYC's Battery Park on the day we Brits finally managed to get shot of the Yankees (hate mail to the usual address, please). Looks like a get there really bloody early event in order to make sure it's free, but that's a pretty worthwhile line-up to do so. Details here.

  • Swedish torrent site The Pirate Bay has initially been found guilty of assisting copyright infringement in a Stockholm court. Each of the 4 founders could get a year in jail and have damages totalling $3.54m. They're pretty feisty, however, and are adamant their appeal will overturn this decision. Full story here. I don't agree with the flagrant ripping off of artists in any way, but obviously this blog's approach - as many others - is to encourage people to download, taste the music for a while, then get on in there and shoot the creative talent some dosh when you get some strong feelings about it. If I can stream it online or listen before I buy in a store, why not let me get some tune files and build a relationship with them throughout my daily grind? I'm a good boy....I love music and those who make it....I'll be back to open my wallet if it's good. I know some won't but am I hugely naive in thinking they're a minority who will rip off musicians one way or another, regardless of how many P2P's get taken out? 50 more of those will appear to replace them in the duration of that legal process anyway, so how can the majors and phonographic institutes hope to win with this approach? Is there no talent in these organisations willing to work on a new way to make money in this future of the industry that has actually arrived? How many more questions can be asked here? This needs its own post. Filed under 'backburner'.

  • The Replacements is a band of which I previously knew precisely arse and all, yet for the last 2 months they've appeared in every recommendation, magazine, and casual music conversation that I can care to recall. Obviously I've now established that they're a significantly influential 80's alternative act, though I have yet to hear any songs. Let It Be and Tim have been recommended as starting points, so I'll crack on with them next week unless anyone has their own two pennies to throw into my hat before then?

  • This blog needs some redesigning and I'm starting to think about where to take it. Again, any ideas are gratefully received. I'm a beginner in this design lark, too, so be gentle.

  • O'death has still been dominating my listening this week with no sign of relenting. If you like anything weird, psychedelic, and fast and loosely played then it's important you check them out. I'm starting to compare them to Two Gallants a little, just after they've imbibed a vat of LSD. This is strange and wonderful music, particularly suited to end such a wandering, baseless post.
  • O'death - Lowtide mp3 here.

And a propos of nothing at all:

...................transmission ends.............................

A coherent, focused Mastodon - Crack the Skye review to follow later this weekend, I promise.

Now playing: Mastodon - Sleeping Giant
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Best Band Named After Undies?

The Thermals
, of course.

These folks are back with a vengeance on new album 'Now We Can See'. I haven't registered their previous releases to any greater degree than a song here or there, but the mixture of firm, jagged riffing and alluring melodies on this newie is pulling me in rapidly. Imagine a more raw version of The Shins, distilled through the Modest Mouse approach to songwriting and you're on the way to figuring out where the sound is headed.

Without venturing into the overgrown and alienating territory of laborious detail.....that's what I hold reviews for.......part of the beauty of this album's subject matter is where American songwriters head now that there's actually an inspiring leader on the world stage. It's easy to write a nihilistic protest song about a political figurehead one regrets, but what happens when the same ills remain yet there's potentially hope on the horizon. Worse still, what happens if that hope stalls? 'Now We Can See' has initial undertones of covering some of this ground. I should too and perhaps this album will inspire something along these lines. Inspiration? Well I think we've come full circle for the moment...........

Disregarding all of the subject matter, check out the title track and tell me this isn't something made for the impending sunshine. We're so, SO close!

Will The Thermals be a suitable summer soundtrack? Only listening will decide.

Official Site

Buy / Buy

MP3: The Thermals - Now We Can See

MP3: The Thermals -
I Know the Pattern (courtesy of Insound)

Now playing: Modest Mouse - Fire It Up
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

In the Absence of Patience

More of a stopgap than anything else, I wanted to pen some pretext for the release of the new Isis album, 'Wavering Radiant', on April 21st (LP) and May 5th (CD). It's to the point where I'm tempted to buy a record player just for the two week advance it gives but we'll see.

Isis has been ploughing its epic post-everything furrow since the release of 'Celestial' at the start of the noughties. Since then, they've covered vast swathes of ground with releases that vary from naturally lush soundscapes ('Oceanic') to ragingly paranoid ('Panopticon'), always with a heavy edge but with varying approaches that lend each release its own character and individuality.

Live, too, they run the gamut of emotions, reeling the audience into their own world and letting the music do all the work. Visually there's usually little going on at an Isis show, in my experience, so it's testament to the quality and scope of their songs that they can still be renowned as an outstanding live act.

The new album is reportedly more orchestral than previous efforts, with more interplay between the various players and instrumentation. Added to this is the exciting involvement of Tool guitarist Adam Jones on two songs, as if more reason were needed to rush out for this one. Now, whether or not to roll back the years and get in on this world of resurgent vinyl..........?

Pre order 'Wavering Radiant' at: Blue Collar Distro (special pack) / Insound


- Myspace

Now playing: ... And So I Watch You From Afar - A Little Bit Of Solidarity Goes A Long Way
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 13 April 2009

Unsigned Uncovered: J.E.L.L.i.

You know what really grinds my gears? People with more talent in one finger nail than I have in my entire physical and mental form. People for whom a sneeze most likely comes out as a lush, densely layered melody with hit radio potential...... actual fact, I love these folks and they're more or less the reason that peons such as I ramble on so often - blogging, I believe they're calling it nowadays. But the Family Guy reference has been ghosting around my mind for a few days now and required an exorcism.

Such abundant talent as to which the (entirely unnecessary) preamble hints is present throughout the debut EP from J.E.L.L.i. , the project name for one Chris Sauter's musical endeavours. This resident of Staten Island (never been there but it has its own eerily disconnected subway line, so it must be inhabited) initially seems to be running the risk of spreading himself too thin when you take a look at the J.E.L.L.i. website detailing this ep...... acoustic/hard rock/punk/alternative ......which isn't an uncommon occurrence for artists on their initial recordings. One spin through the ep, however, and we're the ones left feeling mildly foolish for ever having doubted. The styles meld together seemlessly and each of the tunes lends its own individuality to a 5 song whole that is exquisitely produced.

Kicking off with the electric-acoustic ode to complicated love,
Jenn, the ballad style never comes near the cheesy nature into which such songs can descend. Instead, it first showcases an upbeat emotional honesty lyrically and signs off with some intricate guitar soloing that only adds to the beauty. Following this, things are kicked up a notch with I Am Blank (Nothing), my personal highlight as one born into the alt-rock faith. A fast, irrepressible punked up song, it doesn't stop there and adds in some more alternating guitar tones which nod to a heavier, perhaps post hardcore feel. White Lines continues this style but with a more jagged rhythm section, losing the punk speed to an extent. I tell no lie that the I can find The Movielife, Saves the Day, Quicksand, Far, and innumerable other potential influences in these two songs alone, on listening carefully. Whether or not these bands had any impact on J.E.L.L.i.'s sound is to be confirmed, but lofty comparisons regardless.

moves us back into the calmer acoustic waters from which we set sail, going completely unplugged in this case. There's a possibility that this one could get a little syrupy sweet after repeated listens but, again, the honesty and carefully constructed lyrics should see that it remains on the pleasant side of emotional rock. Closing out the ep, New Dimension ties all the quality songwriting and harder influences into one upbeat, rocking conclusion. Even a Beach Boys-esque doo-wah gets into the soundscape and sounds absolutely perfectly placed.

To have tied all this together so effectively at any point would be impressive. To have achieved it on a debut EP is borderline mocking more established artists that still struggle to get 5 quality songs onto an album. Add to this the du jour quote on the J.E.L.L.i. Myspace of
"Record Label: I prefer to keep 70%... not 12%", and you know that when this music makes it big, the creator is going to be the rightful winner, rather than some multinational that threw it at the wall with some other poor artists to see what stuck. Artists can now connect to those that want to listen in more ways than 24 hours in a day will allow. The explosion has occurred and no amount of signing has been 80's acts or suing 12 year olds downloading Britney's latest can stop it.

The point is, we're back to basics and word of mouth is everything again. This is a good thing. You can buy the J.E.L.L.i. ep with one click on
iTunes, if you like. You can also get even more up close and personal and buy a signed/numbered enhanced CD here (scroll down a wee bit first). You can connect with any number of social and media networks on which J.E.L.L.i. resides. All in a bid to spread this music to one more person who might like it.

Talented, accessible, and wielding top quality tunes. What more can one ask for, when all's said and done?

MP3: J.E.L.L.i. - I Am Blank (Nothing)

J.E.L.L.i. on YouTube

J.E.L.L.i. on Facebook

Follow on Twitter

Now playing: Blur - There's No Other Way
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Lost in 2008's (pt II)

Now that we're waist high in April, this is the last I intend to hark back to least in terms of dedicated posts. It was a half decent music year and, although there may be a few more undiscovered gems, this year has proven to be more than a little bit special already. Spend much more time peering into the cracks of '08 and I'll be writing about this year's wonders in 2010......that's next decade and I don't want to get that far behind myself now, do I?

So the first two releases are those that prompted me to write this one, with the rest being honourable mentions. Last Charge of the Light Horse I've been posting about plenty recently, with good reason. I don't think I've touched on o'death yet, but I really should have. These guys have shot up my listening charts this week with their inexplicably catchy anti-country rock.....don't even know where to begin, so I'll kick off with Last Charge instead:

Last Charge of the Light Horse - Fractures - Buy

> This is an inspired, atmospheric album chock full of rootsy, unassuming American rock songs. Unassuming in the best possible way, in that they rely on quietly winding guitar lines, a the skilled but subtle underlying rhythm section, and honest, world-wise lyrics. Fractures could be played in the background and remain a pleasant listen, but it's when you dive in with headphones that the songs reveal themselves fully, revelling in a quiet complexity and deeper meaning that more than rewards the efforts of the more careful listener. There are obvious influences from the hey day bands of US roots rock but this is also an album I hesitate to recommend a specific song, because the whole should really be heard, but starting with Face-to-Face or 100,001 would give a happy introduction.....just use those headphones, please!

Stream: Last Charge of the Light Horse - A New Expression

o'death - Broken Hymns, Limbs & Skin - Buy

> Right from the kids with storms for faces on the cover, the cut & paste feel of the inlay design, and the morose monicker, o'death both disturb and enthuse from the outset. As it turns out, this is an effective preparation for the listen ahead on this album, which is jarringly fast and loose. From the rattling alt-country stomp of opener Lowtide through to the down-home, free form fiddling that closes on Lean-To, the whole effort is a fast, raw, and disconcertingly dark experience. It threatens in a most incoherent manner but retains a consistent sound, somewhere between Th' Legendary Shack Shakers and (a far more unhinged) Murder by Death. Whatever's going on here, it's best not to dwell too long upon it for fear of the lingering insanity. Instead, just let is wash you along and the listen is all the more intense.

MP3: o'death - Lowtide

The Black Keys - Attack & Release - Buy

> I first saw this Akron, OH duo support Kiwi flash-in-the-pans The Datsuns, in the wonderful little Grog Shop. Needless to say the locals blew them off the bill but for some reason I never went back to make a purchase of the many releases since. Better late than never, however, as this is a great slice of bluesy rock. They make a superb racket for a duo and have an album full of memorable tracks, which will now cause me to backtrack through the rest of the releases. Like a train between Manchester and Liverpool, I may take inexplicably varied amounts of time to make some journeys but, regardless, j'arrive.

MP3: The Black Keys - Strange Times

The Cure - 4:13 Dream - Buy

> Alright, so this probably didn't pass many fans by, but I generally don't follow The Cure in great detail and so this one made only a cursory blip on my '08 radar. It found a way into my hands last month, though, and is really pretty good. Harder-edged than I expected, the songs keep one interested and have an energy that I never really associated with the band. And,, of course, that I'll be likely to check back with my mate who adores these fellas to learn a bit more, so that's got to be a good sign.

MP3: The Cure - The Reasons Why

......and to transition nicely to 2009, a link to the excellent Kemado Records. They have info on o'death but also have a fantastic roster, including Dungen, The Sword, Langhorne Slim, and Marissa Nadler. The latter has her new album out as of last month, which is likely to be another easy to miss but cracking release. Check out River of Dirt from their site for proof. There, seemless non?

MP3: Marissa Nadler - River of Dirt

Now playing: O'Death - Mountain Shifts
via FoxyTunes

"the sun
burst bleeding
bright flashes of air
and although I'm naked
never before did I care"

Friday, 10 April 2009

REVIEW: Asobi Seksu - Hush

Another disc that I've been allowing some time to settle since it's mid Feb release is this newie from NYC's own Asobi Seksu. I'm glad that I took the extended listening period, because this would likely have been quite a different review 2 months ago.

Hyperbole generally comes in two forms for me, that bestowed by all and sundry or that built up in my own head. I have an effective control facility on the former.....I become additionally sceptical.....but the latter is a more insidious beast. It develops subconciously, in small but undeniable steps, eventually leading one to forget a time they felt anything otherwise. Such was the case leading up to the release of 'Hush', which could only follow in the footsteps of the unspeakably luscious, upbeat 'Citrus' and a powerfully noisy 2007 live set in Manchester's intimate Night & Day Cafe. Right? Wrong.

'Hush' is its own creation and stands distinctly so, particularly in direct comparison to its predecessor. Largely absent are the immediate, sunshine-tinged pop tones of Goodbye and Strawberries, replaced by icily distant numbers like Familiar Light and Mehnomae. The joyous, carefree feel of the 'Citrus' summer gives way to the introspective and vulnerable winter present on this album. Hell, even the artwork has moved from multi-layered oranges and yellows to a minimalist and stark white, for the most part. This is not a band in the same mood or one content to retrace the steps of what was a perfectly effective formula.

So initially this album is something of a come down. When you're expecting glorious rays of light and wake up to an overcast, foreboding skyline, you're not going to be best pleased. Yet often cracks in the clouds will appear, revealing a brighter side to the day, at which point you'll appreciate them all the more in the context of the grey from whence they sprang. And on songs like the aforementioned Familiar Light, Gliss, and single Me & Mary, such breaks do make an appearance. Often it's in the form of Yuki's whisper-light vocal, which has the disconcerting ability to snap from airy and hopeful to eerily distant with a miniscule change in pitch. Elsewhere it's simply a picked up tempo and a less contemplative feel (Me & Mary), which is about as close as we get to anything on 'Citrus', in spite of containing the lyrical couplet "Dry my eyes on the summer sky, say goodbye to the happy times".

It would also be churlish to ignore the beauty in the distance that the album maintains. Although I'm definitely remaining on the side of Asobi's brighter disposition when I return to listen, there's something perfectly fitting about Yuki's ethereal singing expressing the fragility found in the music on this album. It's a testament to the band, in many ways, that they can create such differing albums and still come out with works that grow over time and don't feel unnaturally forced. Certainly, it takes a much longer time for the songs on
'Hush' to become regulars on playlists, but on the album they call home they make perfect sense as a whole listen. And, as we all know of course, all the best listens like to reveal themselves slowly, piece by piece, rather than in one glowing exposure.

So if you have any preconceptions about what
'Hush' should have been, it's probably best to go away, flush them from your mind, then come back tabula rasa. After that, the album's beauty should be evident. If not, with the summer months fast approaching then it might be best to put the album in a drawer and wait until about October. By the time the next winter freeze sets in, this is definitely an album that will make the transition into ice and snow a much improved experience.

Official Site

MP3's removed at request of artist representative/Blogger - Asobi Seksu Free MP3's (link to site only)

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Old Dog vs New Tricks

Nestled amongst my latest care package from old Blighty (cheers Mum!) was the latest rocksound compilation CD. Aside from the fact that this quality mag has turned me onto more good music than any media source I can recall in the last few years and, as such, the CD is always an interesting listen, there was the added intrigue of a track from Therapy?. Nestled away at the end of the disc with little fanfare, I'm unsure if this is simply due to the fact that I'm miles away and haven't been subjected to the news of their return, or if the kids simply aren't listening to this shit any more.

That's right kids, I am not one of you. Now turn down that damn screamo band and play me some obscure 90's alternative.
I digress........

The song is called 'Clowns Galore' and to be honest it's neither form of whelming, over, under or otherwise. It starts out with a shimmering yet jagged guitar line and drives on into some sharp but unremarkable riffing. It's quite raw and has the occassional mark of well-known Therapy? - acerbic lyrics, an alternative energy etc - yet it lacks a hook or memorable riff on which to hang your hat. Fair rock song, no more and no less. Hopefully the album, 'Crooked Timber', will deliver much more than this one hints at.

Any road up, my pleasant surprise at their return is not entirely quelled, as it gives me another chance - following on from pimping the mighty Kerbdog yesterday - to recall some classic 90's alternative rock from near my own shores. The new track is below but for me the good times are in returning to original giants like 'Screamager' and 'Die Laughing'. If the newie comes anywhere near this kind of form, this isn't the last of the rambling you'll be hearing from me about these boys..........why are you frowning?

Therapy? Official

Buy / Buy

MP3: Therapy? - Clowns Galore

MP3: Therapy? - Screamager

MP3: Therapy? - Die Laughing

Now playing: Therapy? - Screamager (Live)
via FoxyTunes