Sunday, 31 May 2009

REVEW: White Lies - To Lose My Life

This debut from London's White Lies has been the subject of ever-gathering hyperbole since the band (under this monicker, though previously known as Fear of Flying) first hit their home town stage in early '08. It hit the UK number one album spot in January and, as such, buzzed a certain amount upon release in the US not long after. So is it worthy of all the dreamy A&R gazes being thrown its way?

In a word, no.

White Lies
play competent, moody atmospheric rock with a black underbelly, pulling out the not uncommon comparisons that stem from Joy Division (of course) to their most heralded modern day imitators, Interpol and Editors. There's nothing wrong with their application and, for the most part, the band pull off the sound with expertly layered production and an impressive ear for the giant hook. The downside is that we already have those existing bands, not to mention their own lesser copyists.

Every scene has its downward spiral when a style is appropriated by hundreds of clone bands, with this being the general feeling one gets after a few spins of
'To Lose My Life'. It's fine, with songs like A Place to Hide and E.S.T. providing some memorable moments, yet the overall album seems far too similar from song to song and delivers a contradictory "we're dark and moody, but we can bring the pop" message in the same way The Bravery attempted not so many years ago. And hark how quickly their supernova burnt out into a dead star (get that metaphor.....and I haven't even seen the new Star Trek yet folks).

Stripped of all the media love-ins and lofty comparisons,
White Lies deliver reasonable, introspective mood rock with the odd hit tune. Spread across a full album, the quality of sound remains consistent where the quality of song does not. Too little variety exists herein to really get excited about the album as a complete body of work, hence leading to the worry that these lads will struggle to retain interest once the initial coating of promo-paint has been stripped away. Having said that, I will happily laud their sophomore effort if it develops the sound and hits the consistent form of their better tracks. For the moment, however, this is very much a case of awaiting further proof.

Official Site

MP3: White Lies - E.S.T.

Taken from 'To Lose My Life', out now.

Buy it at Insound!

MP3: White Lies - Nothing to Give (M83 Remix)
This remix offers a bit more to the sound. Good on ya, M83.

Now playing: ¡Forward, Russia! - Spring Is A Condition
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Road to Nowhere

Time and tide are supposed to wait for no man and the road to hell is apparently paved with good intentions. Well, in the time it took me to travel the road back and forth to Cleveland, via rural Pennsylvania, this past holiday weekend, I had intended to find time between tides to post about some of the tunes soundtracking the road trip. Which, if any, of my destinations qualifies as hellacious is open to interpretation.

MP3: Aesop Rock - Getaway Car
Taken from
'None Shall Pass'

Buy it at Insound!

So a combination of missed opportunities and lacking internet roaming service led to this extended break, abruptly halting a pretty good run. Normal service, as I am defining said run, will be resumed over the weekend now that routine is back in full swing. In the meantime, here's some of my road programming to divert attention from the yawning gap just created.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

REVIEW: Mono - Hymn to the Immortal Wind

Never ones to shy away from adventurous instrumental grandeur, Japan's Mono have furthermore created something of outstanding beauty and grace in 'Hymn to the Immortal Wind'. I hesitate to write a standard review here because, in truth, this is not a standard record, post-rock or otherwise.

The album is not so much of a concept as a coherent, firm narrative, written through the sleeve notes to be read as the album progresses. With 5 of the 7 tracks here clocking in at well over 10 minutes each, it becomes evident that the story unfolds in movements within each song, in addition to the clear dissections afforded by the titles. The scope of the instrumentation is also a marvel, with a full orchestra often employed to convey emotion and tale. In actuality, this feels more like a close, considered listen to a film score than it does a new release from one of post-rock's leading creators. Although their peers in Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You create similarly dynamic and evocative instrumental guitar rock, rarely does it touch the same level of layered complexity and lush, all embracing sound that Mono achieve here. This is no slur on their contemporaries, merely an indication of how far this band has moved from the genre template.

So where to venture when a logical track-by-track run down seems a gross understatement on the quality displayed on each song? Well the story and theme actually provide a legitimate description of the music in their own right, ably assisted by some lucid artwork from Esteban Rey. It chronicles what feels like a post-apocalyptic world and the journeys of a young couple, beholden to one another. They become eternally connected in sharing these end of world experiences and many of the song stories on the album - as well as the overall collective title - nod towards infinity, a place where the pair will always remain together. In finding this point, though, they brave the harsh reality of their physical world and the memories of a better time. Their solace is generally found in creating connections to their continuing spiritual bond, which is likely the eponymous 'Immortal Wind' and the
Everlasting Light of the final track.

The music, then, veers from the melancholy of loss and longing to the joyous heights of rekindling life on a timeless journey. If all of this sounds highly pretentious or preposterous, then I would simply make the points that: 1) this is a Mono review and was to be expected.....I have little sympathy, dear reader, if this was not abundantly clear after the words 'post' and 'rock' appeared just 4 sentences in, and 2) have you heard about Crack the Skye? This theme is tame by comparison. Part of the joy I receive from elongated instrumental sets like this is digging into the stories/concepts and attempting to visualise what the artist was attempting to convey through the music alone. It adds an element of involvement that is sometimes engaging for the listener, albeit it won't always lend itself to idle repeat listens.....for the latter I have my trusty Britpop classics.

All of the standard adjectives can be applied to this release.....sweeping, majestic, epic, evocative, beautiful, and many more besides.....yet they convey insufficiently the joy of the record. The cinematic atmosphere created and the close interaction between music, storyline and artwork take the listening experience into a more thoughtful, contemplative realm than other releases in the genre. Other than recommending a quiet night in with this outstanding album, there is little more that a review of 'Hymn to the Immortal Wind' can offer you. In other words, buy this album.

Official Site / Myspace

Mono - Ashes in the Snow

Buy it at Insound!

"We are not bound by the passing of time, Underneath every layer of the vessel that we call the body, there lies only the soul, where memory lives on."

Now playing: Isis - Hand Of The Host
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 18 May 2009

REVIEW: Two Fingers - Two Fingers

Let us get this out of the way up front, I am no expert in either the fields of hip hop or the various offshoots of the genre I round up under 'electronica' on my iPod. I have dabbled in each area for well over ten years, so I hold some touchstones. My meat and potatoes, bread and butter, or whatever other basic culinary analogy you care to throw this way, lies in rock, metal, and indie music, however. It was with a mixture of curiosity, adventure, and mild hesitancy, then, that I approached the debut album from Amon Tobin, Doubleclick, and featuring Sway, collectively labelling themselves Two Fingers.

Thankfully it appears that the creators were equally concious of the sense of adventure and pioneering spirit going into this effort, with their main site labelling this "a project unlike anything that any of the three main players has ever made before". Amon Tobin is a Brazilian beat merchant whose music I have been ever so slightly exposed to over the years. His electronica is characterised by minimalist, intricate beats, at least where I have come across it. Doubleclick is a UK producer and jungle/D&B musician named Joe Chapman, whilst Sway may be more well known, being as he is a UK MOBO Award winner. It sounds like a diverting prospect with plenty of possibilities for collaboration......and so it proves to be.

Initially, the overwhelming feeling I came away with was one of a point missed. I was perhaps expecting a much more instrumental effort with fewer lyrical outings, yet the album is peppered with appearances from various guest vocalists including Ms. Jade, Ce Cile, and Kevin Tuffy. These, in addition to the dominating flow of the aforementioned Sway, give a first impression that roots the record primarily in the UK grime scene, by way of more popular hip hop/R&B. Not that I cannot appreciate such styles but I had been hoping for something more genre-bending. As it happens, the adventure I was seeking is certainly present, it just requires a more in depth listen than a loud subway and low volume permit.

Upon donning some decent headphones and exploring further, the winding beats of Tobin and driving energy of Chapman are the foundation for everything going on vocally here. In general, the vocal performances are the least interesting part of the album, although they of course add meaning to the songs and lend them a more accessible nature for anyone less concerned with the moving parts underneath. On opener Straw Men, clicks, samples, and understated bass beats all weave their way skillfully around each other, as Sway delivers a sermon on urban UK life and the false image thereof. More impressive is the following What You Know, an album highlight that perhaps best melds the inputs of each contributor into a dissection of criminality and the comparative justifications in a developed(?) country like the UK versus the developing world. The message is delivered with police samples and an energy that suggests being on the run from the law, like a vastly subtler and more literate cousin to Dizzee Rascal's Sirens.

Better Get That follows and sees the first female vocal of the effort from Ms. Jade. Whilst delivered with a strong attitude and energy, the song does feel somewhat cliched and doesn't sit as well with the style of the opening one-two. Further into the album, Chapman's jungle influences really begin to kick in on That Girl, with its tribal percussion style beat. Without being an outstanding track, it does represent all that is exciting about the styles each contributor is bringing to the table and offers the instrumentation a chance to take the spotlight, previously occupied chiefly by the vocals. Jewels and Gems adds a bit of a light heartedness to proceedings, what with its opening skit and the Eastern flavour running through it, although there is a deeper spirtual subject lying somewhere within as well. Bad Girl follows, featuring Ce Cile, offering a much more refined R&B style vocal that fits comfortably with the laid back beats upon which it sits.

After spending more and more time with Two Fingers, the album becomes unexpectedly addictive and worthy of repeat listens. This is partially down to the depth of sonic layering brought by Tobin and Chapman, but also helped by the accessibility that the vocal performances lend to many of the songs. There exists so much variety on the album that the various tempos and styles come together to form a diverse listening experience. At times this does fall flat and break up the flow of the album, evident on tracks like Better Get That and High Life, but on balance it offers more to the whole than it detracts.

Sometimes the old adages are appropriate. In the case of Two Fingers, patience certainly is a virtue. Persevere - at least if hip hop/grime would usually not be your first choice of listening - with the album beyond the first few listens, spend some time focusing on the carefully crafted beats that form the crucial elements of the outing, and the virtues really shine through to reward the effort. Even if this may not end up being a widely popular album of 2009, it certainly qualifies as one of the most intriguing of the year and one worthy of acknowledgement by anyone with an appreciation for music that moves outside the boundaries of its own comfortable genres.

Official Site / Myspace

MP3: Two Fingers - What You Know
Taken from the self titled album out now

Buy it at Insound!

Now playing: Amon Tobin - Bloodstone
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Change Is A Sound

Having spent today trolling around Central Park and the neigbouring environs taking in the Aids Walk NYC - music review coming photos, if I can figure out how to liberate them from their mobile phone incarceration - I got to ruminating on the part music plays in shaping beliefs, lives, and maybe even social change. Having attended Dark Was The Night Live recently and really enjoying the benefit compilation, this has been a relatively well brewed topic, percolating in my brain box for much of the month.

Personally, music at the very least soundtracks some very important and defining times in my existence, as well as at times reinforcing - or even directing - actions I have taken. Off the top of my head, artists from Rage Against the Machine, through At the Drive-In, Strike Anywhere, and particularly Boysetsfire have all pushed a desire to become actively involved in causes in some way. Rarely have these been direct listen-react interventions......I'm not joining the Zapatista movement any time soon......but the idea of trying to contribute something positive or act in some way has always been stimulated by those bands.

Beyond that - and getting to the point of this post - some artists seem to pen particularly empowering songs that really assist decisions for the future or validate choices of the past. As The Hold Steady succinctly put it - and the name of a pretty schweeet blog, as an aside - "Certain songs they get so scratched into our souls".

Frank Turner is one such artist who really manages to strike at the chords lining my reasoning. Many have been the times I have floundered in my confidence to continue along a certain path and a song from this poetically-inclined fella has reinvigorated my will. So as a nod to this and a bit of build up to whatever great material the boy is currently recording in a Brooklyn every musician recording here right now??........I wanted to focus on the excellent lyrics to the title track on Turner's most recent release, 2008's 'Love Ire & Song'. Although there's a consistent theme of jaded aging through that album, I generally prefer to take the commitment to stick to one's guns and stiffen resolve as the message, particularly on this song and Photosynthesis.

Anyhow, a vid and the lyrics follow this rambling nonsense (hey, every blog is supposed to have its 'voice' right? Well, mine is much like that of some old codger sat on a park bench rattling off old days stories.....just that these are musical tales and I ain't balding.....yet). But a nod to the excellence of 'Love Ire & Song' and Frank's other releases just before we get to the goodies.

Official Site / Myspace

Buy it at Insound!

Love Ire & Song

A teacher of mine once told me that life was just a list of disappointments and defeats, and you could only do your best. And I said: well that's a fucking cop out, you're just washed up and you're tired, and when I get to your age, well, I won't be such a coward. But these days I sit at home, I'm known to shout at my TV, and punk rock didn't live up to what I'd hoped that it could be. And all the things that I believed with all my heart when I was young are just coasters for beers and clean surfaces for drugs, and I've packed all my pamphlets with my bibles at the back of the shelf.

Well it was bad enough, the feeling, the first time it hit, when you realized your parents let the world all go to shit, and that the values and ideals for which so many fought and died had been killed off in committees and left to die by the way-side. But it was worse when we turned to the kids on the left, and got let down again by some poor excuse for protest; by idiot fucking hippies in fifty different factions, locked inside some kind of sixties battle re-enactment. So I hung up my banners in disgust and I head for the door.

Oh but once we were young and we were crass enough to care, but I guess you live and learn. We won't make that mistake again. But surely just for one day we could fight and we could win, and if only for a little while, we could insist on the impossible.

Well we've been a good few hours drinking, so I'm going to say what everyone's thinking: if we're stuck on this ship and it's sinking, then we might as well have a parade. Because if it's still going to hurt in the morning, and a better plan’s yet to get forming, then where's the harm spending an evening in manning the old barricades?

So come on old friends, to the streets, let's be 1905 but not 1917. Let's be heroes, let's be martyrs, let's be radical thinkers who never have to test drive the least of their dreams. Let's divide up the world into the damned and the saved, and ride to the valley like the old Light Brigade, and straighten our backs, and not be afraid, and they’ll celebrate our deaths with a national parade.

Leave the morning to the morning, pain can be killed with aspirin tablets and vitamin pills. But memories of hope and of glorious defeat are a little bit harder to beat.

Now playing: Hot Water Music - Paper Thin
via FoxyTunes

Friday, 15 May 2009

REVIEW: The Thermals - Now We Can See

It's always great to be pulled into an album/band with one song and have the rest of the material live up to the promise of that first listening experience. So it was with my first forays into the world of Portland's The Thermals and their new album 'Now We Can See'.....hear title track > obtain full length > enjoy. Simple.

Simplicity is also the key to the addictive nature of this album, with the short, snappy nuggets of garage-tinted pop rock regularly delivering memorable choruses and singalong lyrics. It's when one delves deeper into the lyrics, however, that the true nature and additional complexity of the band's material present themselves, raking up subject matter from environmental concerns (When I Died) to what remains when we vacate this mortal coil (How We Fade). The mixture of the hook laden tunes and observant lyrics helps set the songs apart from more well known contemporaries like Weezer, as the listen offers something with more depth than the pork & beans basics of more chart-familiar artists.

The Thermals live at SXSW 2009 - I Let It Go

Moving on from their more overtly political past leanings, the central theme of this album appears to be the human effect on our own environment ("Never pure, never aware / Never a cure, never a care") and the process of our passing on ("I knew I could love or die / I let it go"). This darker content does at first seem somewhat at odds with the summery handclaps and ohh-wee-ohh hum along moments that fill the album but, after a few listens, it all begins to click and becomes an enjoyable quirk.

Despite the many soaring highlights - We Were Sick, When I Was Afraid, and the title track just to start you off - there are a couple of duds that see things peter out a little towards the end. Liquid In, Liquid Out doesn't really seem to fit the general proceedings lyrically and is somewhat mundane musically, for example. This is a minor quibble, though, for an album that delivers so frequently in terms of accessibility and thought provoking content. All this delivered in a less polished, perhaps even grungey - everyone loves that tag, of course - manner that has seen the band more readily accepted into indie circles (they're playing the Pitchfork Music Festival, if any further proof were needed).

Without being a shoe-in for a top album of the year, Now We Can See is certainly likely to appear on many year end lists due to the depth and crossover appeal it offers. This should see The Thermals start playing to increasingly larger crowds and there would be few to begrudge them such success on the strength of this newest outing.

Official Site

Buy it at Insound!

MP3: The Thermals - Now We Can See
Taken from 'Now We Can See'

MP3: The Thermals -
I Know the Pattern
Taken from 'More Parts Per Million'

Now playing: Spoon - Everything Hits At Once
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 14 May 2009

At Peace With The Mystics

One of the more pleasant surprises this past week has been the arrival of not just new material from one Conor Oberst, but rocking new material at that. Well, he and his Mystic Valley Band cohorts as well if we want to give it the full jam band-esque suffix.

I'll admit to not being a huge Bright Eyes panderer. That's not to say that I don't like the songs released under that monicker, but the level of hysteria for those releases is such that if one doesn't experience uncontrollable bowel movements when a record comes out then the label 'fan' is overstated. Now if we move back to Oberst's songs in Desaparecidos, I'm more inclined to hit that higher bar and call myself a lover. The more critical, rock leanings of his one release from that project have certainly made more impact on me than the rest of the other outings. This all said, whatever he does I of course think the guy has a fantastic voice and an unfathomable ability to pen a great lyric.

So without going into a full review - it's too early in the listening and I'm certain one will come further down the line -
'Outer South' is a very immediate and exciting return to the more ascerbic aspects of Desaparecidos, whilst remaining closer to the indie/folkier style for which the man has become famed in certain circles. There is an upbeat and down home feeling right from the start, with the organs raising out from the sound and adding a more celebratory air. Despite this, the critical nature of the lyrics is retained in places and forms a great counterpoint to the good times evoked by the music. On Roosevelt Room, it's positively scathing.

Although running long with 16 songs clocking in at over 70 minutes, this does allow a lot of room for the various styles and attitudes to flow from what, to me right now, sounds like a very accessible and addictive listen. Time will tell but the signs are pretty bloody good after the first few spins. Gotta love it when that happens.

Official Site / Myspace

Stream the full album at Merge Records here

Buy it at Insound!

MP3: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Roosevelt Room (Live)
Taken from the album 'Outer South' - out now

Now playing: Desaparecidos - $$
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Unsigned Uncovered: Connecting Flight

The four UU (not as catchy as I'd have hoped) features to date have all covered recently stumbled upon US artists. All well and good, as these were some fine offerings.

To shake things up a bit, though, I decided to venture all the way home to Liverpool to check in with a cracking UK band I first laid ears upon in 2007,
Connecting Flight.

First things first, when a band lists At the Drive-In, Refused, and Massive Attack in their influences, it's probable I'll come over more hot and flustered than a Catholic bishop attending a primary school sports day. That said, influences can also be notoriously misleading and are often to be taken with a pinch of salt.

As it turns out, you can certainly hear elements of their record collection in Connecting Flight's material. Still shy of a full album, they've released two singles up to this point, with We Are Artists coming out a couple of years back and the fresh, fancy Fix - unintended's a keeper though - having just been delivered this past March. Tunes from both of these - plus the energetic demo song RegroupRewind that first brought the band to my attention - maintain a consistently good blend of angular post-hardcore and alt-rock leanings. The vocals are raw and can occasionally verge on the strained, yet at those times they add to the frantic sound in a way they once did for bands such as Drive Like Jehu or Hüsker Dü, rather than detracting at all. Underneath, the rhythm section keeps a tight, rapid-fire beat whilst the guitar work moves between melodic stints and jagged, feedback-laden riffs.

We Are Artists

Video - Connecting Flight - We Are Artists

The number of quality songs on offer gives rise to the question of when they will all be herded up into one shiny piece of plastic and let loose upon the unsuspecting public. Well, the band has been working with producer Chris Sheldon - who has also worked with Biffy Clyro and *gasp* Foo Fighters - and should ostensibly have something ready later this year. Having toured heavily in North West England the last few years, hopefully they can begin to spread the good word a little further around the country. Then Europe, then the world....mwa ha HA....well, one step at a time but at least the latter would mean I could catch them in an NYC dive somewhere.

Until that time, I recommend Fix, We Are Artists, or RegroupRewind as tunes with which to wet your toes. Following that, you can catch them live on the following UK dates this summer:

May 18th - Liverpool - Barfly w/ My Vitriol
June 5th - Leicester - The Shed
June 14th - Liverpool - Cavern Club
July 26th - London - The Gaff Club

Myspace / Buy

Now playing: Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band - Slowly (Oh So Slowly)
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Youth Gone Wild

What with a spate of reviews and catch ups recently, somehow the new Sonic Youth track has received no love on these here pages. Time to reconcile that sharpish now that we're within spitting distance - metaphorically speaking, of course - of the new release 'The Eternal', due out 9th June.

Although a ton of weird and wonderful 'art' performances go down in the "City That Never Sleeps" (walk around deepest downtown Manhattan late Tuesday night and tell me that), it feels like not many happen without Thurston Moore being involved. From art installations to soundtracking the careers of choreographers atop space age scaffolding, this fella has his fingers thoroughly wedged in pies across the boroughs.

The lead tune from the album - and also the opening track - is Sacred Trickster. It feels like vintage Sonic Youth, with a driving, fuzzed out riff and Kim Gordon's urgent vocal echoing out over the melee. It bodes well for the full length, which can be streamed from their new label Matador when one pre-orders the full shebang. In fact, in general the buzz and build preamble to this record feels much more fervent than for other recent Youth releases. Perhaps this is down to the band being free from Geffen and working again with an independent? Or perhaps all these cerebral arty efforts have simply given them a need to take things back to supreme alt-rock basics in their 'day job'. Oh for such a day job.

The band plays No Fun Fest in Brooklyn this coming weekend, at Music Hall of Williamsburg on 16th May. A brief trip to Europe follows but unfortunately includes no UK dates, although many may be out in Spain lapping up the sunshine that will have by then vacated old Blighty. Those to whom that applies could potentially nip up to beautiful Barca for the Primavera Sound festival. Although knowing the kind of Brits that hit the Spanish coasts at this time of year, the crossover to classic US alternative rock acts is likely infinitesimally small.

Football hooligans rocking out to
Teen Age Riot? With that nightmare scenario wrestling my grip on reality, I shall bid all bon nuit.

Official Site

MP3: Sonic Youth - Sacred Trickster
Taken from forthcoming album 'The Eternal', out 6/9/09 - Pre order here

Sonic Youth - Kool Thing
Taken from
'Goo' - Buy

Buy it at Insound!

"It's time to go round,
A one man showdown,
Teach us how to fail."

Now playing: The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy!
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, 9 May 2009

REVIEW: O'death - Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin

By my own reckoning, I have been extremely restrained in holding off on posting a blubbering review of this record in the last few weeks. It has been an almost daily listen since I belatedly - it was released in June last year - stumbled across it last month and making only cursory allusions to it in mixed posts has been a trial. Nonetheless, these things must stand the test of time and graduate from the initial lust phase......something 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin' achieves with nary a nostalgic glance back to the initial courtship.

From the initial banjo twangs of Lowtide, this album lets loose with a riotous mixture of whiskey-soaked Americana and off kilter gypsy punk. The songs are short sharp shocks, blazing by in a blur of unhinged fiddles, wailed lyrics, and thunderous percussion. Not until fourth track, Mountain Shifts, do proceedings slow to a more sedate pace, affording a brief opportunity to reflect - via drunken, slurred sing along - on the glorious urgency just displayed. Even then, the break is only temporary, with the band swiftly moving back to a blazing alt-country stomp at the first chance. Not to gloss over the tracks that have already whipped by, Fire on Peshtigo and Legs to Sin - along with the aforementioned opener - provide one of the strongest starts to an album I can recall in a good while.

It comes as no surprise to learn that various drum equipment - not to mention scrap metal - was utilised, and subsequently laid to waste, during the recording of this album. The percussion is one of the strongest features on 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin', rivalling the furious strings for the sonic spotlight. Just listening to the deep snare on Grey Sun alone offers images of the threat that precedes a Western bar brawl. Now that we touch on it, the entire album conjures rapid and varied imagery ranging from the simple, down home back country to the psychedelic forms more associated with stoner rock. The album artwork fits beautifully with the sound, displaying bizarre works of children with voids for faces and inverted, skewed Americana images. Blurred, confused visuals to offset a loose, unrestrained sound that veers off in whatever direction appears appropriate at any given moment.

Back with specific tracks, Crawl Through Snow serves up a mixed tempo, sounding at once gloriously celebratory and darkly morose ("Angels fool the light / Arms fall off in fever"). On An Aching Sea stumbles in with the air of a drunken barn dance and exits almost as abruptly, leaving it to the following Angeline to return an air of rare decorum to the album with its more standard song structure and longest duration at just under 5 minutes. In a strange way this is O'death's ballad, although it maintains the same morbid undertones that run through the entire album and is unlikely to receive any radio great loss. Lean To ends the album in much the same way it started, with a punchy blaze of strings and pounding drums that is gone almost before you know it has arrived, announcing quite clearly "I'm gonna leave here / I'm gonna leave her / I'm gonna leave you".

O'Death - Legs To Sin - Live @ Bowery Ballroom from Kemado Records on Vimeo.

Despite a tendency towards various bleak, semi-apocalyptic visions, there exists a positive duality on 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin' that only adds to its charm and repeat appeal. The album has been dedicated to the memory of drummer David Rogers-Berry's fiancé, who died of an aneurysm in late 2007. A short, unassuming tribute to her life is placed in the centre of the album, offering some firm hope ("Light comes from breaks in the clouds / Of a place that I doubt / Light comes") amongst the uncertainty and schizophrenia of the rest of the album. Again, this is a touching personal element that only lends extra depth to what is already a thoroughly engaging listen.

Sometimes there is only so much one can say about music before it becomes self-defeating and repetitive. The best way to experience this album is, as usual, to purchase the package of your choice (I have a feeling the full vinyl LP look s gorgeous with this artwork) and delve into the nooks and crannies. The best I can say is that 'Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin' both uplifts and entangles the listener simultaneously, far from outstaying its welcome and dragging one back time after time.

Embrace the weird and wonderful world of O'death and you will be exploring its seemingly contradictory nuances for many a month to come.

Official Site / Myspace

Buy it at Insound!

MP3's: over here for another source though.

Now playing: Cut Copy - Out There On The Ice
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 7 May 2009

From Where Its Roots Run

"we sample from the shelves
tore a page out of this chapter
deface the essays in the book that you're reading
we are the leeches that stop the bleeding

deficit attention program

by any means necessary
blare sirens to the library
whisper instructions to the book-wormed glossary

is it heavier than air - tell us, is the black box lying?

aeronautics hacked

the spine of paragraphs

prepare to indent, a coma that read-
floating in a soundproof costume
here comes the monolith
brass knuckles for the hissy fit

an abbreviation for the landing of fleets

position the stitches - like miles of torpedoes

permission was hinted
lungs that hollered in a sleeper hold

is it heavier than air - am i supposed to die alone?"

MP3: At The Drive-In - Cosmonaut

Taken from the absolutely essential 2000 album 'Relationship of Command'

Buy it at Insound!


Now playing: At The Drive-In - Metronome Arthritis
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Pick n Mix

Time to catch up on some deserving efforts, on which I've been procrastinating for a couple of weeks now. Here's an assorted bag of musical sweets for your no-so-guilty consumption......

- 'Invaders Must Die' surfaced from The Prodigy a couple of months back and was generally overlooked, presumably as a relic of a forgotten electronic past. Well, bands like Late of the Pier and Hadouken! have been making a decent name for themselves playing sprawling electronica with aggressive beats, so if lead track Omen is anything to go by then these once pioneers should be welcomed back with open arms. A pulsating, driving track based on jagged beats that should come with a safety warning, it's a return to something like the form that made their mid to late nineties stuff so essential and influential. File under "Pay Closer Attention".

Official Site

MP3: The Prodigy - Omen (courtesy of Insound)

Taken from 'Invaders Must Die'

Buy it at Insound!

- Photons is an 8-piece band hailing from the gorgeous city of San Francisco. This being the location of my first visit to these United States as a kid, I have had extremely fond memories of the city ever since. Well, now I have another reason to like it, as Photons deliver a shimmering slice of indie-pop on their recent single Where Were You Last Night. Combining the loose, railing instrumentation of Arcade Fire with the fun time approach of more recent Modest Mouse, these lads and lasses from the Bay Area combine to make what I assume will prove to be a wonderful summer ditty. The assumption is due to the torrential rain that is currently assaulting my window and ushering all thoughts of pleasant summer days from my contemplations.

Official Site / Myspace

MP3: Photons - Where Were You Last Night

Taken from the 'Glory! EP', out May 12th

Buy it at Insound!

- Another single track that has been making my play button finger itchy comes from Chicago's Absentstar. The song is called (Don't You Think) We Owe It To Ourselves and delivers an extremely polished, memorable slice of alternative , melodic rock. The rousing chorus, coupled with the subtley layered instrumentation, walks the narrow line between mainstream rock radio fare and the introspection of bands like Interpol and Travis and successfully avoids tumbling into either the generic tedium of the former or the sometimes depressing undertones of the latter. Overall this bodes well for the band and their recently completed album 'Where We Begin', due this July. Touring plans are in the works right now for both US and UK locales, so have a listen and keep your eyes peeled for these guys rolling through your corner of the planet.

Official Site / Myspace

And finally, some picks from the news relating to H-T-A friendly bands:

- The Gaslight Anthem is prepping a new album, in addition to an expected solo outing from singer Brian Fallon. Read his full chatter on the subject here.

- Mastodon's Brann Dailor has confirmed that a full film for 'Crack the Skye' would not be as unlikely as it sounds. More details here.

- Baroness is another band getting busy in the studio, with an autumn Relapse release a distinct possibility for the follow up to the frankly mind blowing 2007 'Red Album'. Keep a close eye on this one as it could rival the giants above if all goes well.

So that's a good portion of catching up completed. Normal service, whatever that consists of, will be resumed shortly.

LIVE REVIEW: Dark Was The Night @ Radio City Music Hall, Manhattan

Understandably, given the worthy nature of the project and the calibre of artists it attracted, Dark Was The Night Live has already received some glowing and well written reviews. In fact, LastFM had user opinions posted within 2 hours of the show finishing, which must mean the writer lived in mid-Manhattan as the subways definitely don't support that kind of rapid return in the dead of a Sunday night. To share the variety of opinions, some of these perspectives are shared shortly after my own meadering prose. This show was already special as the tickets were a gift from my better half, with whom the concert experience is greatly improved simply by the act of sharing thoughts and moments. The main motivation was initially to see The National again after a brilliant UK ATP set last year, as well as catching the much hyped Bon Iver live set. As I read more about the nature of the show it became clear this was going to be something very different (and hopefully special) so excitement grew. A brief thank you and onto the show!

Firstly, Radio City Music Hall is a pleasant, if slightly disconcerting space in which to watch bands that usually play much grimier locations. It's much more like a cinema complex than a venue, what with the multiple vending stations selling bad popcorn and assorted overpriced snacking garbage. The extortionate price of beer did revive memories of shows at the Manchester Evening News Arena, though, so therein existed some familiarity. The important thing, however, was that the seats afforded a good overall view of the stage and the sound was outstanding.

As with the recorded effort, Dirty Projectors kicked off proceedings with what, to my ears, was a slightly awkward and not particularly rousing tune. For a mid headline set slow down it might be appropriate, but surely not something this pedestrian to blast into a night of this magnitude? Despite this, their second song was far more impressive and they then brought out the big guns - namely David Byrne and his guitar (for accuracy of plurality) - for the DWTN recorded cuts Ambulance Man and Knotty Pine. The latter would have been a perfect, albeit obvious opener to the show, whilst the latter burns slowly and gently, showcasing the talents of Byrne's cultured tones. This is what people had come for and the reception for Mr Byrne made this abundantly clear.

MP3: Dirty Projectors & David Byrne - Ambulance Man

Following this, Red Hot founder John Carlin came out for a wee chat about the organisation's history and past projects. He introduced a Sinead O'Connor video which started off a feature present throughout the night, breaking up the band sets - and presumably member/equipment changes - with cause oriented videos. These were hit and miss, other than the excellent women in rock feature. Highlight: Bikini Kill noting that walking around in pyjamas and a handbag will help you to stand out and avoid being messed with. Note this doesn't apply if you live in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, in which you look out of place in anything other than this apparel.

Returning to the music,
My Brightest Diamond was up next featuring Shara Worden serenading an impressed audience with a cover of Nina Simone's Feeling Good. An unexpected high, even if the version on the compilation is also a high quality cut. Shortly after, the members of The National not involved with the actual project organisation joined the brothers Dessner (who had backed Shara) onstage for an early highlight, a four song set with two new jams.

To ease us in gently they broke out with
Slow Show, a known and happily familiar quantity from Boxer. The first newie was titled England and is thus naturally the best song they've ever written. Patriotic hyperbole aside, it sounded very promising ahead of a new album later this year (I think.....I hope), with a melancholy air and lyrics referencing angels and London. Not much to go on, I know. Trust me, it was bonzer. Remembering why they were here, the band then threw in their solid effort from the compilation, So Far Around The Bend. Without being the best track on the disc, this is still an endearing National tune. To close out we received another noob and the pick of the two, Vanderlye Crybaby (which is probably spelt a little differently than this, but close enough I'm sure). This came closer to Boxer material but filled in the gaps with a similar air to England, utilised Berninger's silky baritone effectively and, once again, whet some appetites for their next outing.

MP3: The National - Slow Show (Live)

One more artist before the interlude (again with the cinema/theatre feeling but what might one expect with nearly 4 hours of entertainment to get through? People need to wee) and a muted reception for Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio fame. From the conversation around me it seemed many didn't recognise him and, to be fair, he is one of the less outlandish looking members of an outlandishly good band. Like MBD before him, he kept his offering to the compilation cut With A Girl Like You and that was that. Good song, reasonable performance thereof.

----- Let's all go to the looobby, let's all go to the looobby, let's all go to the loooooooobby, to get ourselves a treat -----

Life savings spent on another disappointing snack and/or beverage, folks returned to their seats to be greeted by a marching line of drummers, followed by the irrepressible Byrne coming back to run through a few older numbers on past Red Hot projects. This started with an energetic and powerful Don't Fence Me In, then moved into Dreamworld: Marco de Canavezes accompanied by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (who filled in during many performances throughout) and closed with Waters of March, helped out by Feist. These were all good reminders of the quality that has gone before this excellent DWTN compilation across 20 odd projects.

Then what happened?
Bon Iver happened, that's what. I really had no idea that this would be as good as it was to prove. I adore the Blood Bank ep and For Emma, Forever Ago has been slowly warming the cockles of my heart on rainy NYC days, yet there is so much more going on when these guys get together as a full live band. Rolling off with Brackett, W9 from the comp, it's immediately clear that Vernon's voice is naturally powerful and has no problem replicating the fragile beauty it evokes on record. It's when he electrifies proceedings for the initial melodies of Blood Bank that the hairs really start to stand on end, though. Understand that on the ep, this is a quiet, restrained affair recounting a beautiful story of two people sharing simple experiences (parallels not lost on me this evening). Thus, when Vernon and the band approach the song with blistering electric guitars and venture off into solos further in, it comes as a complete surprise. The absolute genius of the whole shebang is that it in no way loses the emotion of the original version. In fact it only adds to the complicated longing conveyed by the song. As this attempt to dissect the moment probably hints, this was undoubtedly my highest highlight of the entire night. Not to take away either from the excellent Big Red Machine and an adoringly receieved Flume to follow it, which were almost as spectacular, but that was the soaring peak on my aural landscape.

MP3: Bon Iver - Skinny Love (courtesy of Insound)

Following this was difficult but Leslie Feist showed up and did her darnedest, choosing to strip things right down to just her and the guitar for an intimate acoustic feel. It worked somewhat, with a song with feminist overtones starting off (no probs with that, except that not all women are "chained to their husbands", surely?!) and then an appearance by the ubiquitous Vernon, taking the spot filled by Ben Gibbard on record for a run through of Train Song. Feist's highlight was certainly the dirty, down home Blues-laden song that closed her set though. Another welcoming reception ensured that she left the stage able to be pleased with her contribution.

From the start of the show, John Carlin had promised that Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings would end the show, because "who can follow Sharon?". To be honest, other than the decent song on the compilation I had no idea who Sharon was, let alone whether or not anyone could follow her and the inextricably linked Dap Kings. As it turns out, Carlin was bang on the money. Initially with just the band onstage, the guitarist-in-chief belts out a string of superlatives to introduce"soul sista" Sharon Jones. Then on comes a large and very definitely in charge lady, strutting her stuff and informing the audience that she has been cooped up backstage far too long and needs to DANCE! And that she does, knocking out shape after shape and constantly referencing the late, great James Brown as she goes. The music is soul-powered funk with the full swing of the Dap Kings behind it, dropping audience jaws with the contrast to the excellent but comparatively sedate indie rock that has gone before it. Garnering a standing ovation for the boundless energy she puts into the few songs played, there really wouldn't have been any following them.

That said, there was still some follow up to be done, as the entire cast of the show (minus a conspicuous by her absence Jones) returned to pay tribute to one Pete Seeger, who's 90 today and having a quiet one over at Madison Square Garden with maybe five or six (thousand) close friends. The gathered ensemble explain this and begin a quiet singalong of Seeger's This Land Is My Land, which starts off pleasantly but begins to drag after a few minutes. Sauntering across the stage to save us from the meandering ditty, Sharon Jones grabs the mic and informs everyone that that version is fine, but her Dap Kings have an inifinitely superior take to offer. So once again the whole place is swept up in the vital energy and upbeat, feel good vibe that the lady imparts.

Nothing really was to follow that and the crowd, standing to applaud enthusiastically once more, began to file away into the depressingly grey, wet NYC night. Notably, though, most are smiling from ear to ear regardless of the conditions outside, knowing that inside we've just witnessed something very special and contributed to a worthy cause at the same time. And even if music can achieve only this, I think everybody will be perfectly satisfied with the outcome.

PERSPECTIVE: Brooklyn Vegan / Stereogum / LastFM

Red Hot Organisation Info

Dark Was The Night Compilation

Buy (Insound) / Buy (iTunes)

Selected tunes from the comp:

Now playing: Bon Iver - Blindsided
via FoxyTunes