Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Down - Lifer [Live @ Full Force w/ interview]

It's shaping up to be a metallic week here on H-T-A, both in listening and coverage, and may I say it's been far too long in the coming. Maybe the foul weather has called for something more furious as a soundtrack, in which case this cloud most certainly does have a silver lining.

As a quick nod to the genre that started it all for me musically,I was happy to come across an early Down track being torn out live at the Full Force Festival in Germany last year.

Despite Phil Anselmo's worse for wear state, both in the interview and vocally, this remains one half of a classic pair of tunes that open up their classic debut NOLA. It perfectly characterises the pure adrenaline of the genre, from the raging lyrics to the fleet-fingered riffs of cult heroes Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein. With a great deal of watered down music doing the rounds as contemporary metal, it's heartening to see a band of this calibre still entertaining massive crowds and playing with such obvious passion.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Best Get Your Skates On

After a tumultuous year and a bit, today finally saw the return of Sacramento's Deftones - one of the most influential and adventurous metal bands to emerge from the varying quality of the nu-metal years - with their new track 'Rocket Skates'. After the horrific accident of November 2008 that left bassist Chi Cheng in a coma from which he is still recovering, this is both a pleasure and a difficult reminder of how the band came to this point.

Download the new tune here, after e-mail sign up.

The song itself is a vicious affair, harking back to the unremitting, shred-heavy sound forged on sophomore effort Around The Fur. Chino Moreno's vocal in particular comes across deliciously, wavering from that characteristic ethereal float to a razor edged screech, part joyous, part bloody murder. Meanwhile, Stephen Carpenter's signature guitar tone is present and correct to back up the reinvigorated singer with a sharp, serrated riff. This is a bold statement of intent from a band that have perhaps wandered around their core sound for some years now, but who now sound every bit as intense as when they began their rise over a decade ago.

chi cheng - Live Donations Tracking for

deftones, chi cheng

With new album Diamond Eyes slated for a mid May release, it's time for Deftones to get back on track with the music and honour Cheng's fight with an album of equally vigorous hope. Rocket Skates is a pulsing indicator that the band will take up this gauntlet and then some.

Monday, 22 February 2010

#MusicMonday - Songs in 140 Characters (Or Less)

"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences; what others say in a whole book."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Late due to dodgy internet connections but here we go, nonetheless.....

Heavily FM rock blend of 90's style emo (Shudder to Think) and more classic influences like Cheap Trick. Retro radio enjoyment.

MP3: The Album Leaf - Falling From The Sun (from Insound)
Slow moving beauty with evocative brass sections and dreamy vocal harmonies. One for those slow days.

MP3: Castrovalva - Donut
Schizophrenic heavy rock coming on like a more alcoholic System of a Down. Mashes the mind in under 3 mins in a quite glorious manner.

MP3: Priestess - Ladykiller (from Insound)
Brings to mind a somewhat watered down Baroness. Riff gallops along nicely but does much less of interest than their influences.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Muslims Pack It In

Ramshackle San Diego rockers The Muslims didn't pull any punches when naming the band first time around, opting for a monicker sure to garner attention from both sides of the conservative fence, be it overzealous patriots or religious obsessives.
Now going by the altogether more palatable title The Soft Pack, the music - and particularly the renowned energy with which they deliver it live - seems to remain undiluted.

Peddling a raw, energetic brand of punk-tinged rock, the songs are heavy on the hooks and centre around big, easily recalled choruses. The immediacy lies in deceptively simple tunes that burrow right inside one's mind and rattle around incessantly, much in the same way the guitars mosh around the central melody of the tracks.

MP3: The Soft Pack - Answer To Yourself (free via Amazon MP3)
Taken from new album The Soft Pack, out now

Buy it at Insound!

On tour in Europe just now, the Californians return to the USA next month for SXSW and a full tour in support of their new self-titled album. Whether you go with the new name or not, you'll be hearing it plenty more as the months roll by and these lads turn many more ears their way. May as well make up your mind now, right?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

REVIEW: Beach House - Teen Dream

Having already provided more than enough preamble in the build up to the release of this new Beach House jam, I'll simply move right along to the prime cut of the review itself.....

Opener Zebra holds a subtle beauty, with that androgynous vocal commanding the subservient yet hypnotic guitar tones. The delicate percussion is also understated until the chorus, as cymbal splashes create an ever so slight celebratory atmosphere, before receding back into the mix. It's an exemplary introduction to the quiet majesty that Beach House evoke.

Familiar lead track Norway chimes in with a fuller, more upbeat tone and that amazingly woozy effect reverberating behind the song, creating a submerged feeling as if the whole thing was recorded in an Atlantis studio. It feeds into an unfeasibly addictive song and an early album highlight that should win the band many new friends.

MP3: Beach House - Norway (via Insound)
Taken from new album Teen Dream, out now

Buy it at Insound!

The same sleepy, hazy atmosphere remains a defining characteristic throughout Teen Dream, be it emphasised by the symphonic chorus on Walk In The Park or the ever-winding path laid out on Better Times. There's just something in the languid vocal style of Victoria Legrand that raises a light mist over each track, without ever losing the intangible authority that she somehow delivers in the same breath.

Further in, the centre of the album holds a true delight in the opening bars of Lover of Mine, which does bring something of a varied tone to proceedings with its shimmering keys. The song also feels more upbeat in approach, with both the singing and instrumentation reaching for higher peaks than they tend to elsewhere on Teen Dream.

This notable high may also flag one of the very few nagging doubts on this latest effort, namely the tendency to stick to the signature drowsy sound without venturing too far outside. Though this does come to mind from time to time during repeat listens, in truth it is also a key strength that binds the songs together and makes for a thoroughly coherent listening experience.

Beach House make music that, for the most part, explores the nuances of a very specific sound. That they probe these niches extensively rather than continually seeking out bold new sounds is to their benefit, as it contributes to making Teen Dream such a unique effort and one that adds satisfyingly to a bevvy of first class releases early in the year.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

And The Beat Goes On.....

Since the Blogger upheaval last week, many of us music scribbling types have been reviewing how and what we post, at least in MP3 form. Even seemingly legit files from one source can be subject to the whims of another party, making it something of a minefield to choose what to cover. Unless, of course, the songs come directly from the artist responsible for creating them. 

Such is the case with the great new material from Beat Radio, available on a pay what you want arrangement at Bandcamp.

MP3: Beat Radio - Everthing Follows
MP3: Beat Radio - Cold War

On both tracks, the sound is fuller than the songs on Safe Inside the Sound - an H-T-A pick of 2009 - adding a chunkier bottom end and additional layers of density. This, perhaps, comes from the more complete band line-up recently assembled. The delicate vocal of Brian Sendrowitz remains a key component, however, and adds that sensitivity that first lures one into the Beat Radio sound. A pleasing step forward without abandoning the foundations already laid.

Cold War is my preferred cut of the two, showing off the more powerful rhythm section whilst the song burns slowly, cautious guitar lines sauntering across the percussion and echoing vocals adding more layers. The track builds as an almost trance like keyboard effect crosses the other instruments, though even this is carefully introduced and doesn't linger too long. The lyrics are the icing on the cake, switching between personal reflection to political metaphor in seamless flow.
With the plan being to continue releasing a set of songs every month, the bar has been set high from the word go with these tunes. And the fact that we can enjoy and share them without fear of some panoptic digital enforcer killing the weed by nuking the garden makes it all the better. But you knew that already.

Monday, 15 February 2010

#MusicMonday - Songs In 140 Characters (Or Less)

"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences; what others say in a whole book."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

A week off for, well, laziness I suppose, but returning here is the only random babble free writing on H-T-A. Enjoy it while it lasts. Which, with only 140 characters, isn't so long......

MP3: Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring (from Insound)
Full of attitooood Welsh indie-rockers hit a snotty note just after Valentine's Day. Good use of dual vocalists on a happily feisty track.

MP3: The Car Is On Fire - Can't Cook (Who Cares?)
Supremely upbeat, slightly skittering Polish indie-dance-pop with undeniable Euro beat overtones. Uncomplicated, breezy and accessible stuff.

VIDEO: Wakey! Wakey! - War Sweater

Impassioned acoustic solo effort with a soaring chorus showing off that powerful, wavering vocal. A fine legacy indeed.

MP3: Elspeth - Lullaby
Highly emotive alt-rock from Northern Ireland, with a melancholy Radiohead bent but which reminds me more of Headswim. Nobody remembers...I liked 'em.

Stream: ambeR Rubarth - Song To Thank The Stars
  Amber Rubarth - Song to Thank the Stars  by  CrashAvenue

Warm acoustic goodness with a clear Jenny Lewis inflection to her voice & smart lyrics. Album 'Good Mystery' is, unsurprisingly, very good.

MP3: Basia Bulat - Go On (from Insound)
Vaguely Irish folk styled singing and percussion with a marching, dynamic feel. Quickly stirs up an intangible, undefined call to action.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

EP REVIEW: Lucas Kane Hall - My Name In Wingdings

Australian exports? Passable lager, hybrid sports with blokes in dodgy 80's shorts, and pint-sized pop divas. Well, AC/DC too, of course, to avoid looking like the quintessentially xenophobic Brit. While we're adding, chalk up Lucas Kane Hall to the positive side of the list as well.

Now calling Manhattan home, Hall's journeys across the oceans from Australia, through Japan, over cruises, and culminating in New York City, have given his voice a worldly quality, one that sounds out clearly on new EP My Name In Wingdings. Recorded in Nashville and made up of songs created across his travels to the current time in the city, the topics range from finding that one true love (pretty apt for today, of course) on Rock-a-By to much more soul-searching affairs, as displayed on the mournful Stars & Blue.


His songwriting ability is showcased excellently across just four tracks here, with the juxtaposition of the aforementioned dark lament on Stars & Blue contrasting starkly against the relentlessly upbeat Tomorrow. The latter is a happy go lucky tune that just urges the summer to be here already, so that we might hum along to the "Today will do, don't know what tomorrow will bring" refrain. It's a high point powered by some great guitar work, as is Careless Landslide, which contains some luscious string embellishments over its reflective tone.

All in all this is a varied and emotional listen that demonstrates the talents of this rising singer-songwriter. Australia's loss is very much our gain, so thank you folks for allowing this gent to travel the globe!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Doesn't Matter, Copyright's Ambiguous

Well, 'squeaky bum' time in the world of music blogs today - particularly those of us in bed with Blogger - as sites both large and small have been unceremoniously deleted by Google in recent days. For a quick summary of events thus far, check out The Guardian's story.

H-T-A, as with many music blogs, supports purchases of original music with links to the full albums. Often this comes with an opportunity to sample the music from a single track, made available for a limited time. These are promotional tracks for the most part, okayed by the band, PR firm, or record label. Even when not directly received from these sources, the tracks posted are hosted by a legitimate source and linked to from this blog.

MP3: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Buy it at Insound!

A couple of occasions last year when this was not the case - and prompted by DMCA take downs - led to this approach. Since then, I have received another couple of notifications for the same post and simply removed all non-text content from it, as the notices make no specific reference to the offending item. Furthermore, as becomes clear as you read the various reactions to this development in the blogging world, it seems anyone can claim copyright violation in this way to remove content - approved or otherwise - with a shoot first, ask questions later mentality being applied in every case.

I wanted to post this as a rolling resource for anyone interested in the argument to keep track of insights and reaction to what is being hashtagged on old Twitter as #MusicBlogocide2k10 (I know I know, urgh, but it's out there now). Please add to the comments if you have something of interest and I'll include in the main post to bump it up.

In the meantime, if anyone is on Blogger then get backing up your content if you hadn't already done so and start considering alternative like Wordpress or your own web host. How far this will go in the long term is open to question but, in the short term, deserting this sinking ship would seem to be a prudent move. 

    UPDATE [2/13/10]: One of the blogs mentioned in the Guardian piece, Massala, has now been reinstated and some Blogger grovelling received in apology. It appears this one was an error, although I Rock Cleveland remains down despite many reports referencing the DMCA violations being erroneous.

      Tuesday, 9 February 2010

      The Return of Midlake

      Midlake - the Texan neo-folk band behind 2006's understated classic The Trials of Van Occupanther - return this month (today, actually) with their third full length, the much anticipated The Courage of Others.

      MP3: Midlake - The Acts of Man (via Insound)
      Taken from the new album The Courage of Others, out now

      Buy it at Insound!
      New song Acts of Man opens the album and gives a solid indication as to what to expect. The same unassuming yet curiously ominous tone permeates the track, creating that pleasantly dated sound. Dated, that is, in a uniquely vintage manner, rather than any derivative influence-worship. The vocal is earthy, seamlessly blended into the cautious percussion and painstakingly tight guitar lines, to beautiful effect. I could continue, but the song is under 3 minutes on an album with over 40 of them, so perhaps the superlatives should be held back for the full review.

      Although it will have to do a great deal to match the heights of ...Van Occupanther, suffice it to say that the first inklings are sending out all the right signals.

      Sunday, 7 February 2010

      REVIEW: Yeasayer - Odd Blood

      Apologies for the gap in posts...filthy dirty cold caught up with me this week, so liquids, chicken soup & bed rest etc etc were called for. Good to kick back off with this one, however....

      Brooklyn's Yeasayer have been building to the release of new album Odd Blood for many months now, with a series of free downloads, updates, and nudity-heavy video washing out across the indie shores for all to scavenge. The band even played New York’s Guggenheim museum, furthering their artistic leanings and perhaps catching some chin-stroking types up in their promotions at the same time. Now that it has finally arrived, how does it live up to expectations laid out by their 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals?

      The Children kicks off Odd Blood  with a disconcertingly robotic rhythm, featuring a healthy dose of Battles and sounding some distance from the more organic psych-folk that characterized that first album. This is the first of many differences to come. Ambling Alp  provides some semblance of comfort, if only because it’s familiar after being made a free download late last year. It’s also a cracking uptempo tune, with a laundry list of bizarre effects shoehorned in and lyrical hooks to die for. If Animal Collective had a rambunctious younger brother, this would be what he’d get up to when everyone looks the other way. Again, a far cry from the more mature stylings of the band’s debut outing.

      Suitably unsettled by the jarring directional shift taken after just two tracks, anyone seeking solace in next track Madder Red will find none. It burns more slowly than the opening tracks, yet the strong tendency towards synths and electro-based rhythms is, if anything, pulled even further front and centre. The track actually harks back to 80’s acts like New Order or Depeche Mode and could easily have been created by contemporary purveyors of that style Cut Copy. It’s a jolt once more and not an entirely welcome one to these ears, as it feels just slightly unnatural for the band. Perhaps this is born from the familiarity of All Hour Cymbals…..or perhaps it’s just a dud. I Remember does continue a more downbeat path but has a greater injection of its own personality, as well as some gorgeous vocal work from Chris Keating, so it neatly sidesteps criticism as a result.

      Buy it at Insound!

      As if moping simply doesn’t suit them, Yeasayer boot the album up a gear again with the recently released - and again freely downloadable (nice, gents) - ONE. Not quite as unrestrained as Ambling Alp but no less adorable for it, the song bounds along happily on semi-tropical beats and yet more effects cribbed from two decades prior. It works here, however, melding everything together for a tune that should be well used this coming summer, as far away as it may currently seem. 


      Love Me Girl follows with a mixture of that same quirky verve and a rapid undercurrent that almost approaches a trance style beat, at least until the vocals break the rhythm to add something more tangibly Yeasayer. This is another exploration of sound that seems to fear no boundaries and, somehow, pulls off a pretty memorable, coherent listening experience. Rome achieves this also, with what sounds like an Eastern kazoo punctuating its unrelenting indie jaunt and confident lyrics.

      Strange Reunions is a meditative passage that feels more like a bridge between the next uptempo bound of Mondegreen than a song in and of itself. It serves its purpose without being all that necessary, as the latter tune would sit perfectly well alongside Rome on its own. With a swinging horn section and a bass line that sounds like it’s boring a hole to the centre of the planet, the song is propelled along powerfully until it all unravels, in a good way, towards the end in a tangle of loops, reverb, and what may well be a car alarm, given the off the wall tendencies of this bizarre record.

      Grizelda, the closing track, eases up once more as it rides in on long held notes and that more familiar vocal melody, free of obvious effects or samples. In many ways this feels like the sunset of the album, giving the listener one last glimpse of the Yeasayer of old, before completely enveloping themselves in the weirdly wonderful new electronica world they now inhabit. This certainly leaves them wide open to explore any facets of sound they wish on future material, as the unexpected will surely now be just what listeners will anticipate.

      Odd Blood is more than just a title, it describes just what pumps around the veins of this eccentric, eclectic album. Anyone expecting All Hour Cymbals mk II will be most sorely mistaken, as I was initially, yet this record holds a charm all of its own after repeat listens.  The standout cuts like ONE, Ambling Alp, and Rome do a good job of anchoring the new direction - at least in the small amount it can be restrained - and allow the weirder adventures in sound some time to digest for the listener. There are some bum notes, as one might expect, and it would be encouraging to hear no more of the tired 80’s electro-pop influences on slower tracks, but these are certainly outweighed by the positives once taken as a whole. Not an especially cohesive whole, perhaps, but one with many enjoyable peaks.

      Against the backdrop of a scene currently awash with synthetic electronic influences, Yeasayer will almost certainly gather a whole new type of audience with this album. If they can hold the attention and (hopefully) open minds of their existing fans at the same time then they’ll be destined for much greater acclaim on the back of Odd Blood. And, as if to emphasise this point,  that’s something I certainly didn’t expect to be writing upon the first spin of this record. Here’s to sonic peculiarity. 

      Wednesday, 3 February 2010

      Mumford & Sons + Mopeds = ??

      Well, a new video for The Cave somehow. Sharp Italian suits for the band, Indian blokes in toy soldier attire, and hairdryer-bike joyrides in a sunny land? Best focus on the music, I would say.

      So, incongruous visuals aside, the song is another wonderfully jaunty cut of subtle acoustic-folk that builds to a fanfare climax, trumpets blazing and frenzied banjo apluckin'.

      It's the new single released at the end of this month in the UK, from what should be an excellent album in Sigh No More. I use the qualifier because this gem has fallen into the nether regions of the UK/US release date mismatch and appears to still be awaiting a full outing on this side of the pond. I know not where this nether region lies, though I suspect it has something to do with Greenland.....never have trusted Greenland.

      An acoustic version of White Blank Page can also be downloaded for free after sign up at the link below. I'll review the whole damn thing before too long, as Bob is my witness.....

      MP3: Mumford & Sons - White Blank Page (e-mail sign up required)
      Sigh No More is available now in the UK here

      Tuesday, 2 February 2010

      REVIEW: Spoon - Transference

      Spoon have long been established as indie rock darlings, stretching back to the widely heralded Girls Can Tell at the start of the century. Since then, the Austinites have been unafraid to visit varied stylistic destinations, travelling from the minimalism of Gimme Fiction to the offbeat pop of their last effort, 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

      Listen to the full stream of Transference here.

      Generally lauded on every release, the group has a licence to explore their sound that may well be the envy of other bands entrenched in specific styles. The highly anticipated Transference fuses many of their previous outings together nicely, tossing in the occasional surprise for good measure.

      Opener Before Destruction is more relaxed than some of the songs on this album, making it a potentially misplaced tune. Those familiar with the band, though, will feel eased into Transference by this one, pensively strummed with Britt Daniel's reflective vocal alternating tones overhead. A more quirky offering follows in Is Love Forever? With a cryptic line in lyrics, save for the title, this one bounds along with a positivity that perhaps attempts to answer the question the song itself poses.

      Mystery Zone hits many classic Spoon notes, exploring daily life in an abstract manner, powered by a confident bass line and understated yet sharp guitars. This is a warm, layered song that builds in a way that would fit nicely on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Who Makes Your Money slows things down to a dream-like crawl, with synths drifting in and out of the song and another probing bass rhythm pushing all the instruments up to the surface. As unassuming as the song is, it feels disconcertingly as though the band are seeking to get right inside our collective head in order to give it a thorough examination.

      Lead single Written In Reverse is deservedly a centre piece and album highlight, what with the semi-threatening lyrics, stuttering instrumentation, and a vocal delivery ranging from a flu-ridden drawl to rasping yelp. It neatly wraps up all that makes Spoon more than just another indie-rock band, as well as maintaining the nack for a huge hook and pop-esque chorus.

      After these highlights the momentum does begin to wane somewhat, with a little navel gazing on I Saw the Light dragging along too slowly without anything to hang ones hat on. Trouble Comes Running does kick Transference back into a high, punchy gear, however, clocking in at under 3 minutes but still cramming in many naggingly insistent lyrical couplets over the returning guitar hooks. Readily invigorated, a curve ball is thrown with the melancholy and quite beautiful piano-led ballad. Quite whether the reassuring final lyric of 'You're alright' is truthful or to spare someone pain lies at the heart of what makes this one another highlight.

      The closing songs keep things flowing, with Got Nuffin being a particularly enjoyable, full sounding tune after the more stripped down fare that comes before it. Finally, Nobody Gets Me But You finshes us off by increasing the groove, inserting bizarre, distorted keyboard effects, and leaving us wondering if we could ever really hope to 'get' this band, with their uncertain lyrics and myriad approaches to their music.

      All in all, Spoon have pulled another trick out of the bag in melding their many identities together and adding even more personality to Transference. We get the off kilter jams, which sometimes feel like they will fall over themselves only to be saved by the tight musicianship. We get minimal, reflective songs with nebulous lyrics to digest. We get unexpected, almost mainstream ballads that could easily appear in a romance film, yet lose none of their effect for having such commercial potential.

      Most importantly, we get another deep and varied Spoon album to explore and share right at the start of the new decade. Tuck in.

      Monday, 1 February 2010

      #MusicMonday - Songs in 140 Characters (Or Less)

      "It is my ambition to say in ten sentences; what others say in a whole book."
      - Friedrich Nietzsche

      This little baby featurette started last week and I dug the challenge of brevity over waffle. So here again for #MusicMonday are summaries of miscellaneous songs hitting the H-T-A stereo over the last week:

      MP3: Lou Barlow - Gravitate (from Insound)
      Alt-rock hero goes his own more acoustic route (vaguely Days of The New) but no less laden in reverb fuzz. Midas touch on most music he creates.

      MP3: Broken Bells - Vaporize
      Shins frontman hits up Danger Mouse for some beats that effectively underlay the familiar genteel acoustics and floating tones of Mr Mercer.

      MP3: The Splinters - Splintered Bridges
      Spiky femme alt/punk with a forced sounding, raw production and wayward vocals. Simple, sometimes catchy but mostly unspectacular.

      MP3: Monsters Are Not Myths - Republican Girls
      An offbeat ode to Conservative ladies, who can apparently bugger up one's world. Slighty odd but surprisingly memorable bluesy rock.