Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Breaking States

A musical pincer movement has been executed on me in recent days, by none other than the familiar raging rock rave that is St Albans' Enter Shikari.

On Monday, through the joys of the indecisive and half-waking subway shuffle, up popped
Sorry, You're Not A Winner. Like injecting multiple quadruple espressos into a main vein - the concept of which Mondays generally make altogether more appealing than it should be - the adrenaline shot was completed before the song's cheeky handclaps had kicked in. Along with Chemical Bros' Galvanize, this tune tops the list of sonic wake up calls.

Not in any way unique, granted, but then the reports of a riotous Glastonbury performance, furious political outbursts, and a handily placed date at NYC's Gramercy Theatre this Thursday filtered into my news lines.

Having recently released new album 'Common Dreads' in the UK, the band have stealthily maneuvered under my radar and socked me with a quick one-two, resulting in a pretty strong sense of intrigue as to where their musical journey has taken them this time around. And, in an age when everything in music business changes by the day, the reassuringly familiar question:
"Can this blowing-up Brit band break the US market?". A couple of days before Independence Day, this could be a fun experiment.

MP3: Enter Shikari - Sorry, You're Not a Winner
Taken from 'Take to the Skies'

Official Site

Buy it at Insound!

Anyhow, seeing as I've only begun to scratch the surface of the new album (check the video....it got be frantic), the nod has to be backwards for the moment, to their 2007 debut
'Take to the Skies'. Though not entirely consistent, the big tunes that they do have - Anything Can Happen In the Next Half Hour, Enter Shikari, Return to Energizer, and the above - absolutely ravage any criticisms. One can only imagine how these raise the bar live.....at least until the opportunity arises to see them before they, hopefully, kick up a storm here too.

If they continue the cunning assault on my senses of the last few days, it may only be a short while before they win the war and I'm seeing them live/buying the new album/selling them my soul. Once you let them in, it appears you can't get them out. There are worse things that could happen (in the next half hour).

Now playing: Pantera - Cemetery Gates
via FoxyTunes

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Sunday, 28 June 2009

Ketchup: Part Un

Lame, Pulp Fiction-(un)inspired joke refs aside, it's time to make a dent in the electronic stack of music that has developed over here. It's diverse and tasty in places, so let's jump into the undergrowth and see what lurks within.............

First out of the hat pop Melbourne's appropriately monickered Ouch My Face. Their eponymous debut EP wastes little time in assaulting the senses, with lead-off single Obscena Misdemeanour in particular delivering serrated guitar lines and a firey vocal that recalls Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O, had she been weened on Tabasco sauce and helium. Whatever fuels Celeste Potter's surging fury, it provides the secret ingredient in giving this EP its particular charm.

At times I can hear
Senser, musically, which dates the sound slightly but there's enough going on to make this a short-lived detraction. The other minor quibble is the smattering of a few death growl back ups that feel out of place and add little. Focusing on the positive, though, this is a short, sharp shock of spiky alternative, fusing everything from indie through punk and metal, with a groove and attitude that keeps things vibrant. And that voice.....ouch. Find out more here and buy this riotous little recording here.

OUCH! MY FACE! - Obscena Misdemeanour from Natalie van den Dungen on Vimeo.

Next up it's back to the Northern hemisphere, right up to Canada and Winnipeg's The Perms. Mixing up the classic melodic rock sound of Cheap Trick with the contemporary grooves and quirks of Weezer, these three gents deliver a simple but catchy single in Give Me All Your Lovin'.

It's an upbeat, hook-laden slice of poppy rock that entertains plenty, without ever threatening to push boundaries. A full record of the same seems like it may get somewhat repetitive but there's enough on show here to want to dig deeper. A review of most recent album 'Keeps You Up When You're Down' will most likely be the way to decide, so not far from now I'll be on that like Tim Howard on a Spanish attacker's shot. In the meantime you can check the chaps out over this way.

The Perms "Give Me All Your Lovin" music video from The Perms on Vimeo.

Time for one more and then this will need to shift into part II later this week, as there's still plenty more to ramble on about. Swinging back South of the border an
d down to the desert states (they can't pick one of UT, NV, or AZ) with Shark Speed. Their recent debut, 'Sea Sick Music', serves up an intriguing mix of indie-rock with pop sensibilities. Most readily comparable to Minus the Bear, what with the smooth singing and intricate guitar work underpinning otherwise deceptively straightforward rock songs, there are also nods to a wealth of the last decade's emo luminaries. Emo before it became synonymous with 'goth-lite', you understand? Because to tarnish this band with the more modern millstone definition would be most unfair, as 'Sea Sick Music' is thoroughly upbeat and an extremely enjoyable listen.

Highlights include the punchy, urgent chorus of
I'm a Machine and the more reflective Man of Sass, the dual vocal harmonies of which hit close to the off-kilter, energetic rock of Johnny Foreigner. True, some of the songs come close to each other and the overall listen may not be as varied and dynamic as the band they most closely resemble, but when the tunes are upbeat, fun, and played with a richness that many other bands fail to achieve, such question marks are quickly forgotten.

With the sun beginning to show itself after a long deference to grey, dull skies in my area, this album is likely to feature more and more alongside Phoenix and The Thermals in the summer listening stakes. It wouldn't be at all bad if your own playlists went the same direction, so be sure to add this one to your shopping list (from here). Dig up more on Shark Speed here. The band is currently on tour around the West, so be sure to check those summer dates and hit them up.

MP3: Shark Speed - I'm a Machine
MP3: Shark Speed -
Man of Sass
Taken from debut album
'Sea Sick Music' - out now.

Note: If you somehow stumbled across this page for a school project after a visit to the aquarium, your surfing is not in vain. How fast can sharks actually swim? Here you are. Don't forget to cite your references.

Now playing: Father Abraham - Asteroid Belt +++ Giraffterbirth
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Golden Sounds

Just a quick focus on a wonderful LCD Soundsystem song, which popped back into my listening on Friday. Normal programming resumes tomorrow.......

MP3: LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends
Taken from
'Sound of Silver'

Buy it at Insound!

"That's how it starts

We go back to your house
You check the charts
And start to figure it out

And if it's crowded, all the better
Because we know we're gonna be up late
But if you're worried about the weather
Then you picked the wrong place to stay
That's how it starts

And so it starts
You switch the engine on
We set controls for the heart of the sun
One of the ways that we show our age

And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up
And I still don't wanna stagger home
Then it's the memory of our betters
That are keeping us on our feet

You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again
Oh, you're talking 45 turns just as fast as you can
Yeah, I know it gets tired, but it's better when we pretend

It comes apart
The way it does in bad films
Except the part
Where the moral kicks in

And when we're running out of the drugs
And the conversation's grinding away
I wouldn't trade one stupid decision
For another five years of life

Oh, you drop the first ten years just as fast as you can
And the next ten people who are trying to be polite
When you're blowing 85 days in the middle of France
Yeah, I know it gets tired, only where are your friends tonight?

And to tell the truth
Oh, this could be the last time
So here we go
Like a sales force into the night

And if I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool
On the road, there's always this
And if I'm sued into submission
I can still come home to this

And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand
You can sleep on the plane or review what you said
When you're drunk and the kids look impossibly tanned
You think over and over "Hey, I'm finally dead."

Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand
You can turn it on yourself, your ridiculous prop
You forgot what you meant when you read what you said
And you knew you were tired
But then where are your friends tonight?
If I could see all my friends tonight"

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

REVIEW(S): The Flying Change

One of the ongoing, ever-growing charms of living in New York City is the daily availability of free musical performances. Discounting howling drunkards and inconsistent busking, this was something generally unavailable to me on a regular basis back home. Here, though, between the burgeoning summer freebies - Hudson Square, Celebrate Brooklyn!, Summerstage....the list deserves a post in itself - and the established no cover nights/venues, un nuit gratuit is always an option.

Of the latter, a semi-regular haunt of late has been the intimate (realtor speak for claustrophobia-inducing) and charming Rockwood Music Hall. It was here last week that I was privileged to witness a short, powerful set by Manhattan resident Sam Jacobs, driving his musical vehicle The Flying Change.

First things first, the recently released album, 'Pain Is A Reliable Signal' is an intricate gem of what my iTunes tags call 'Landscape Pop'. This only works for me in the sense that the songs wander across many musical horizons, halting only briefly to take in the surroundings before trekking on. Far from spreading itself too thin, the music maintains an impressive coherence across what is also a fairly short album (10 songs/31 mins). What knits everything together and anchors each song is the delicate emotion found in Jacobs' vocal.

The plaintive reflection of Broken Bow opens the album with a sombre, confessional air and a rich instrumentation that only grows as the songs continue. And, oh, the instrumentation...one of the more impressive - and most appealing - aspects of 'Pain Is A Reliable Signal', with the long list of collaborating musicians adding a tremendous depth to the album that delivers a great desire to revisit each song. Like the best films, there's always something new to catch when coming back that second, third, fourth time.

MP3: The Flying Change - Broken Bow
MP3: The Flying Change - If You See Something
Taken from 'Pain Is A Reliable Signal'

Buy it at Insound!

The great variety on offer here further aids the attraction, with the celebratory (If You See Something) standing stoically alongside the melancholy (Hold My Heartache), never detracting from one another. The subject matter revolves largely around the painful illness of a loved one and the long road taken to find a remedy, as yet unforthcoming. Rather than make a hash of covering this myself, though, I would direct those interested to the richly detailed rundown of each song's development, starting here. Ending quietly with the whispered repetition of "I will take your pain away....", it's hard to tell whether this is a promise to another or a furtive hope for the music to provide a cure.

In short, Pain Is A Reliable Signal is by turns both sombre introspection and playful reflection. Richly layered and with the depth required for many a repeat listen, only the fact that it's all over so quickly can detract from an album that channels so much emotion.

Moving swiftly onto the live show, more people crammed onto the miniscule Rockwood stage for this set than I imagined possible. With 4/5ths of the space taken up by the full piano and audience tables pressed right up against the stage, this is not an ideal platform for 8 people with instruments of varying sizes.

However, as you'll have just realised - assuming you managed to trawl through the winding review - part of the charm of The Flying Change songs lies in the ever weaving depth of instrumentation. With brass, keys, guitars, percussion, and backing singers all present and correct tonight, this is not something that will be lacking.
The 6 song set opens with a riotous If You See Something, chock full with clashing blasts of brass, piano, and vocal harmonies. A strained but nonetheless powerful Broken Bow follows, demonstrating again how well the upbeat meshes with the quieter moments of this music. Solid renditions of album staples Dirty White Coats and Hold My Heartache follow to maintain the quality level. Closing with a touching cover of Pieholden Suite by Wilco and energetic newie Valentine's Day, the set is over quickly but provided plenty of high points, only aided by the venue, occassion, and talent the supporting troupe of musicians.

I was going to delve further into the quality of the writing on www.theflyingchange.com too, but alas the hour is late and my updated modus operandi of more concise posting has clearly succumbed to defenestration. Suffice it to say, if you dig around the website whilst listening to the songs, you'll find an author with a lot to say and an appealing style in which to say it. Get right on that.

Official Site / Myspace / Twitter

Monday, 22 June 2009

Handing Back

Despite the many great recent releases and ever-rising stack of submissions - digitally speaking....no-one sends physical CD's any longer, Grandpa - my listening has been harking back to days of yore for a couple of weeks now. Although partially attributed to the reunions going on, there have also been some random whims taken up from idle iPod browsing. Such are the vagaries of having an entire music collection in one's pocket.

The most recent, not to mention regularly repeated, foray into yesteryear has been to Open Hand's oft-overlooked 2004 release 'You And Me'.

After their abortive debut with 'The Dream' - a relatively underwhelming mesh of the many emocore pedallers of the time - this album changed tack significantly and moved the band into full blown rock overdrive, with further nods to the stoner territory of Queens of the Stone Age and even Kyuss, in the licks of certain errant guitar work.

MP3: Open Hand - Pure Concentrated Evil
MP3: Open Hand - Tough Guy

Taken from 'You And Me'

Buy it at Insound!

From the immediate jolt of 'Pure Concentrated Evil', a song that continues to kick start almost every upbeat playlist I create, through to languid closer 'Hard Night', the quality is consistently high. The dynamic rock is delivered with the urgency of a punk band but holds onto the melodic groove synonymous with QOTSA and their ilk, gelling together to create what is simply an outstanding rock record with tremendous return value.

Unfortunately, with their star in the ascendancy, Open Hand only toured the album for a short while and then seemed to disappear from the face of the planet. Whilst their Myspace is still active, a 2008 blog post proclaiming a finished album is even now the most up to date news. Said album has as yet failed to materialise and only tantalising talk of song titles continues to do the rounds. Thankfully enough, 'You And Me' has enough quality to bridge even a gap of 5 years plus. The thought of what might have been, though, is still enough to fuel a strong desire to hear what the band is hiding.

"Things change, the old cliche,
'How's it going, same as yesterday' "

Now playing: Queens Of The Stone Age - Born To Hula
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Universal

In a week chock full of reuniting acts playing out again (Faith No More, Jane's Addiction.........some others....just run with the theme, eh?), it would be epic failure to overlook Blur's return across the pond.

MP3: Blur - She's So High
Taken from 'Midlife' - Available in UK / Preorder for 7/28/09 US

Buy it at Insound!

The band went back to where it all began over 20 years ago, for a tiny, ultra secret gig at the overwhelmingly inconspicuous East Anglia Railway Museum. Placing only behind CBGB's and The Cavern as a venue of supreme renown, it's undoubtedly only a matter of time before Bono wangles himself the next gig there. The videos below document some of the night and really speak for themselves. The quality of the songs is indisputable a decade on and, more importantly, the vitality of the band in playing them again is evident.

Parklife - Live at EARM, June 2009

Charmless Man- Live at EARM, June 2009

Song 2 - Live at EARM, June 2009

Blur play mostly sold out shows in the UK towards the end of June, although a few lucky folk in Manchester can still grab tickets for their MEN Arena show here. I know peeps going to this and I'm sure to hear what I've missed, so let's announce some US dates eh lads? Attaboys.

"Well it looks like we might have made it.....made it to the end"

Now playing: Liberty 37 - Oh River
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 15 June 2009

REVIEW: Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Spawned from the same environs Française that provided the world with the breezy synth-pop of Air and the robotic beats of Daft Punk, Phoenix have to live up to something of a pedigree. Despite receiving varied praise for previous releases since the turn of the century, the widespread acclaim afforded their peers has escaped them.........until now.

'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' is a non-stop party of deceptively catchy, flyaway indie-pop with an undercurrent of accessible electronica. Every track, without fail, has something to offer and not once does it occur to hit the skip button.....or leave a song off the playlist, for the more shuffle concious amongst us.

Kicking off with the bounding Lisztomania, the band provides a blueprint for what will be consistently delivered throughout the album. Simple rhythms, a mind-addlingly addictive chorus, and an irresistible Euro-lilt to the English lyrics. The lyrics in themselves are worthy of mention too......but that's getting ahead of ourselves. The following 2-3 double punch of lead single 1901 and the light-as-a-feather Fences combine to form a start to 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' for which many bands would sacrifice the majority of their keyboard fingers. Further in, Countdown and Lasso offer similarly catchy highlights, though in truth it seems unfortunate to elevate anything on this compelling album above its neighbours, such is the complete nature of the effort as a whole.

With the recurring references to air herein - both the artist, for whom Phoenix were the backing band on
'Kelly Watch the Stars', and the atmospheric form - it's certainly reasonable to label this album a summer hit. The lightweight, short and breezy upbeat approach to the majority of songs means that this one will certainly soundtrack many a summer party.....assuming sunshine ever arrives in NYC for more than one weekend at a time......and endless holiday road trips.

Summer hits can indicate throwaway pop, however, lacking depth and rarely recalled after the sunshine fades into the darker recesses of autumn/winter. Hopefully this record will be saved from such a fate by virtue of its lyrical content, which offers plaintive insights into a nostalgia for youth ("Cruel and everlasting that's what you want / Do you remember when 21 years was old"), cultural class boundaries ("This love's for gentlemen only / Wealthiest gentlemen only"), and all manner of melancholy matters of the heart. Beneath the indisputably sunny musical output lies a wealth of varied lyrical emotion to be explored.

The duality on show for the length of
'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' means that it will serve a huge cross-section of indie and, fingers crossed, pop fans alike. For those simply wanting a few memorable tunes to remember their summer, the album delivers handfuls from which to choose. Then there's also plenty for those requiring repeat listens and a depth of reflection rarely delivered by standard pop.

In short, this album comes very highly recommended. Summer might just start soon if those cracks in the rain clouds are to be trusted, though, so hurry.

Official Site

Phoenix - Countdown
Taken from 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix'

Buy it at Insound!

"True and everlasting, it didn't last that long..."

Now playing: Blur - Coffee & TV
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Digital Killed The Video Star

This past week saw the welcome return of 90's alternative heroes, Faith No More. Having played London's cavernous Brixton Academy on Wednesday, the band went on to headline Friday night, the first day of the Download festival.

MP3: Faith No More - Stripsearch
Taken from 'Album of the Year'

Buy it at Insound!

Now this all happily coincides with my current throw back to the 90's, with anything from the
metal years to the more alt/grunge stylings of Jane's Addiction and Alice In Chains. Add into this mix the fact that both these groups are also touring in various guises, as well as the coincidence that the two bands below FNM on the Download bill that night were Korn and Limp Bizkit, and it's hard not to wonder if the noughties have actually occurred. Should everyone next week be sporting a disturbing mixture of backwards red caps, lumberjack thick plaid shirts, and jeans that could comfortably house a nuclear family, we'll know some form of time warp has enveloped the Northern hemisphere.

To celebrate (?) this confusing - though not altogether unwelcome - phenomenon, here come some of the videos that comprised my mid teens. Assisting anything from exam revision to underage teenage drinking sessions, these were the few rock/metal videos MTV would regularly spin during the day at the time.

In times of rampant Britpop and soul-crushing Euro-cheese, these vids made MTV watchable, before it succumbed to showcasing rapper's homesteads and watching sub-moronic American children interact in distinctly un'Real' situations. There's also a slice of the FNM concert in the form of 'Midlife Crisis', just to prove this is actually 2009.


- Buy

- Buy

- Buy

- Pretty Noose Video (Embedding disabled......why???)
- Buy

Screaming Trees - Sworn & Broken Video (ditto)
- Buy

"Sense of security
Like pockets jingling
Midlife crisis
Suck ingenuity
Down through the family tree"

Now playing: Surefire - Sea Song
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Hot From The Forge

A strange thing happened on the commute this morning. One second I was contentedly listening to standard indie and rock staples on shuffle.....Queens of the Stone Age, TV on the Radio, No Age, nothing too outlandish.....when I was suddenly thrown back over a decade, overtaken by the urge to belt out Fear Factory's 1995 classic, Demanufacture, at a subway car bothering volume.

So I did.

In the grand scheme of my listening over the years, this isn't anything out of the ordinary. Set against recent years, however, metal has generally taken a back seat to less extreme forms of rock and other diverse genres. Sure,
Mastodon, Tool, and the post-metal staples like Isis and Neurosis have remained constant, but the older stuff and more extreme new bands have received comparatively short shrift. On occasion, however, and days such as today, the aggression and pure adrenaline of a hard, serrated guitar riff and pounding double-kick drum rise from the ashened memory banks like a phoenix.......although that brings us right back to indie-pop, as the new Phoenix jam is an absolute summer gem......I digress.

Video - Fear Factory - Scumgrief (Live at Donington '96 - proudly, my first gig)

So the video marks my reminder to keep returning from whence my musical passion arose, the murky waters of 90's heavy music, before all the 'nu' things occurred. The MP3 comes from Montana natives Martriden, whose brutal 4 track EP provided another such reminder a year or so ago.

Great things will come and go in the world of indie rock mp3's, but my dinged up metal discs will still be there if and when the hard drive of my contemporary listening crashes. \m/ indeed.

MP3: Martriden - The Art of Death Infernal
Taken from the s/t EP - Buy

Now playing: Brutal Truth - Sugar Daddy
via FoxyTunes

"Open minds will dominate........"

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Get Your Jocks Off

Not so long ago, I covered the entire British Isles (here and here), in a brief effort to ensure not everything was getting rooted in this big ol' city that I now call home. It's a wonderful place to exist, though it can become easy to forget that there is so much going on musically outside all the opportunities across the 5 boroughs. In the last couple of weeks, Scotland's Frightened Rabbit have once again prompted me to break from the bubble.

One of the beauties of this band - and many other indie-rock outfits hailing from North of the border - is the emotive Scottish brogue, employed so effectively by singer Scott Hutchison. Eschewing the need to Americanise every other syllable is sometimes difficult enough for British pop and rock singers, so to actually sing in a sharp Scottish accent is really hiking off to the opposite end of spectrum trail. Despite this, the trait has become quite a warmly familiar aural tone in recent years, with anyone from burgeoning international rockers Biffy Clyro to rising indie bands like We Were Promised Jetpacks favouring their natural tongue. It adds a sense of honesty and background to the music as well as, for anyone who has visited Scotland, a pleasant reminder of some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK. Even if not, that has to be a preferable image for the tourist board than that of the heroin-addled lunatics in Trainspotting, non?

So then, first and foremost this is a chance to showcase the wonderful Frightened Rabbit, whose careful blend of plaintive indie rock with subtle keyboard tones has so enraptured me recently, on the most recent album 'The Midnight Organ Fight'.....another missed from '08, but we are no longer straying there, goddit? Furthermore, though, it gives a chance to nod to their peers. To shine the spotlight on the cities and Highlands - if indeed any of the bands come from there.....though I doubt it - breeding this emerging talent. Granted, Biffy have been playing this game for the last decade, but people only recognised their glory recently so the loose tie still applies.......oh yes it does.

MP3: Frightened Rabbit - Head Rolls Off
Taken from 'Midnight Organ Fight' - Buy

MP3: The Twilight Sad - That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy (courtesy of Insound) and, my personal fave for the lyrical work, Cold Days From The Birdhouse
Taken from 'Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters' - Buy

Video: We Were Promised Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices
From forthcoming album 'Four Walls' - Preorder

We Were Promised Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices from WWPJ on Vimeo.

Moving away from my audio obsession with the Scottish vocal twang, even more musical wonderment can be unearthed. As well as my passion for the late, lamented Aereogramme - who created anything from lush, intricate ballads to immense walls of noise - there are older bands as diverse as The Jesus & Mary Chain or Idlewild, mixing it up with the newer school, such as the superbly monickered Dananananaykroyd. With enough time and inclination, one could create a labyrinthine playlist of great Scot music spanning the decades. Alas, the time pup has been snapping at my heels for the last few weeks and shows no signs of letting up soon, so this will have to suffice.......for the moment.

MP3: Aereogramme - Concious Life (courtesy of Insound)
Taken from the ESSENTIAL 'My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go' - Buy

As a final note, Frightened Rabbit visit US shores for a FREE show at the Siren Music Festival in Coney Island, Sunday July 18th. As if that isn't enough....and it most certainly is.....a stellar line-up including Built to Spill, Future of the Left, and Spank Rock, should be more than enough to attract enough the most agoraphobic of indie music fans. Lace up those vintage lookin' Chucks and hit the F train, kiddos.

Now playing: Biffy Clyro - Justboy
via FoxyTunes

Friday, 5 June 2009

REVIEWS: Silversun Pickups - Swoon

Silversun Pickups (SSPU) arrived to some small fanfare in 2007, with their debut full length
'Carnavas' garnering some solid critical support and affording them the not entirely selective 'one to watch' tag. An album with some standout tracks - none more so than sprawling live favourite Lazy Eye - there was still something incomplete.....it wasn't an album that one would necessarily need to listen through end-to-end in order to gain the maximum enjoyment. This is what playlists made acceptable, right?

Wrong. A coherent full album that realises the potential of a band and showcases its varied qualities remains one of the most laudible achievements in music creation. Despite the ever-shifting sands of the music industry and a tendency towards track-driven sales and listening, quality albums are still of great importance, at least for the forseeable future as those generations nurtured on the format are still listening and, more importantly, buying.

Which all relates back to SSPU because with sophomore effort 'Swoon' the band has returned with the rounded out, well-balanced album at which they had only previously hinted.

It holds onto the fuzzed out,
Smashing Pumpkins-heavy 90's influence - something which seems to have become an unfortunate millstone around the neck of the band in certain critical corners - but pushes further on, creating a sweeping majesty to the album. This confident dynamism lends a greater depth to the band's sound, which broods in places, only to shake itself from the temporary funk and come back brighter with a joyous attack of guitars and unrestrained drums. Nowhere is this better evidenced than on the magnificent Growing Old is Getting Old, which arrives inconspicuously but surfs out on a powerful wave of guitar noise.

In seeking a criticism of 'Swoon', the most obvious comes in the lack of individually accessible, immediate songs. Panic Switch is the lead off song being used for promo/video purposes, yet in a blow-for-blow match up with an established hero like the Well Thought Out Twinkles, it would come out with a bloodied nose and a confused expression. Ganged up with the rest of its mates from Swoon - including the emotive Sort Of and expansive, grammatically troubling opener There's No Secrets This Year, however, it is more than capable of delivering a knockout revenge attack on those from Carnavas.

With all this said, what the new album offers is a neat counterpoint to the highs and lows of their debut. Both will certainly mesh together to form a solid live set. But in coming back to a personal listening experience, when the time permits to take in a full length, it's undoubtedly Swoon to which I'll be returning.

MP3: Silversun Pickups - Growing Old is Getting Old
Taken from 'Swoon', out now

Buy it at Insound!

Now playing: Jarvis Cocker - Disney Time
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Unsigned Uncovered: The Turn

A return to supporting the up and comers tonight, with a nod to Long Island rock duo The Turn.

I first watched these lads 'Rock the Turn' - a phrase that quickly becomes the band tag line, after you visit their various online resources - at the NYC Aids Walk a few weeks back. My review of that event was lost in a melee of holiday weekend and failed camera-phone pictures, but it wouldn't be right to let the vitality that they put into their set, to engage thousands of charity walkers on a chilly spring day, fade into the ether without a mention. The performance included covers of Jacko's Billie Jean and John Mayer's Waiting On The World To Change, alongside their own more than worthy material, highlights of which were Christiana and the rousing May Day. So good were they that passers-by, walkers, and even NYPD stopped by the stage to find out more and maybe even purchase a CD. Who says coppers only spend their hard-earned in Dunkin' Donuts, eh?

The Turn take a relatively simple rock formula, accessible songs with big hooks and a memorable chorus, and revitalize it with a depth of sincerity and infectious energy that is hard to nail down. Songs like the aforementioned May Day and Silhouettes wouldn't sound out of place on popular radio but they avoid any clichéd nonsense that can sometimes be the downfall of such music, focusing instead on charging the songs with passion and tight musicianship.

The band has new EP 'The December Sessions' easily accessible on iTunes, which comes well recommended by these here pages. Touring extensively around New York and Jersey (I'll be catching them again at a Best Buy in-store this week), whether as a tight acoustic duo or the full band - something I am yet to experience - these guys are doing it the old-fashioned way by playing where they can meet new people and expose these golden tunes to those that simply don't yet know they are fans. An understandable oversight but one that is almost certainly rectified once said strangers have rocked the Turn.

Myspace / Blog

The Turn on iTunes

Now playing: The Turn - May Day
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 1 June 2009

REVIEW: Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South

The reviews keep coming thick and fast at the moment......I'm finding the slew of great records that have found their way onto my desk greater than I can keep up with, especially when these pesky holidays come along and force one to relax. Pity party for one over here.

Anyway, some other features/articles/incoherent babble will certainly be appearing this week, but I do need to expunge one more record from the "Damn! Write about this stuff, will you??" pile, namely Mr Oberst's most recent effort 'Outer South'.

When I first picked this up, I intended it to fill a plaintive, soul-searching Americana/folk gap that had developed due to my recent obsession with rootsy, heart-wrenching Yank songwriters. At least until the new Magnolia Electric Co. record is unleashed. What I had not expected was the much more upbeat, Southern-tinged melodies that practically leap from the stereo right from the opener Slowly (Oh So Slowly). After quickly overcoming the initial surprise, it became abundantly clear that this was going to be a more than pleasant development.

Said opener is a fair reflection of the feelings evoked throughout 'Outer South'. With its winding, positive guitar lines, underpinned by celebratory, confident organ work, the track exudes a happy approach musically. Lyrically the outlook is less obviously content, reflecting as it does on life's progression and the potential slip into mental difficulties ("Dementia, you better treat me good"), though there remains a chance to focus on living for the moment if you twist the intention in such a direction.

The following track, To All The Lights In The Windows, is where Conor Oberst's wonderfully intricate lyrics begin to work their magic, though. On previous outings I can find the fella's downcast, tremolo-heavy vocal a little too much, but here it lends only character and drive to an already heavy rolling sound. The Biblical imagery comes thick and fast in this song about the failure of a higher power to effectively service our prayers ("Solomon heard a protest from the lower court / fickle and chance is God's retort / He handed down the sentence, it was / death by Trojan horse"). The whole thing serves as a more thoughtful, sobering foil to the opener, whilst still keeping up the energy and drive it created musically.

The album continues to deliver mostly exuberant rock with various lyrical gems, whether in Nikorette's search for real happiness ("I don't wanna wear no dead man's suit / I don't wanna wait until the moon turns blue") or Worldwide's aching, unfulfilled desire to explore ("Got to get me out of here / Got to shut my eyes / Got to get me out of here / I know the world is wide"). Elsewhere the pace is punctuated with more familiar, introspective folk songs like Ten Women and White Shoes, which change the mood a little and provide 'Outer South' with an endearing variety. The wide instrumentation spread across the tracks only adds to this quality.

The album highlight, for these ears at least, is reserved for late in the outing but is delivered hard and fast on Roosevelt Room. A clarion call to anyone finding comfort in elected officials due to the recent positive changes, it serves as a reminder to stay vigilant against corruption, with lyrics virtually spat as Oberst delivers lines like "I hope you haven't got too lazy / I know you like your apple pie / Cause the working poor you've been pissing on are doing double shifts tonight". Amongst the vitriol and swirling guitar/organ interplay, though, an empowering, positive tone continues to be upheld by the music as a whole. Again, this is a key factor in making the album such an invigorating listen.

Closing out with a couple of slower, level-headed numbers, 'Outer South' clocks in at a firm 70 minutes and 16 tracks long. If there's any criticism to be levelled, it's that this does feel slightly elongated once the vigour of Roosevelt Room has worn off. The final songs are still thoroughly enjoyable, yet the length of the album does begin to make itself known and a couple of filler tracks - Air Mattress being a prime, throw away example - could have easily been jettisoned to assist in making the album feel more punchy and succinct.

Despite this minor flaw, the final feeling resulting from multiple listens is that this is a gloriously varied and energetic slice of Americana-flavoured indie rock. The organs already mentioned lend a powerful extra nuance to the sound and root it further South, whilst the ranging vitality of the guitars keeps the record interesting throughout. The same can be said of the varying pace, which affords 'Outer South' tremendous variety from inward-looking folk to outwardly anguished rock. Laid bare over the top of all this instrumentation is the crowning jewel of Mr Oberst's evocative, imaginative lyrics.

Add all these factors together, cook the whole bunch for an hour, and out of the oven pops an immensely enjoyable slice of alt-American Pie. Underneath, though, the filling is piping hot and much more than was expected. Leaving it to cool and returning regularly for another slice is to be recommended and should lead to a place as one of the preferred dishes of 2009. Bon appetit.

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)
Version of a song taken from the album 'Outer South' - out now

Now playing: Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine
via FoxyTunes