Saturday, 31 March 2012

Trick Tracks: Propagandhi - Die Jugend Marschiert

Of my top listened songs on Last.FM, amongst the usual suspects of indie rock (The Hold Steady, The National) and alt-metal (Tool, deftones), lies a single punk rock track. 

Standing out like a mohawk in a sea of lank, greasy metal hair, Propagandhi's 'Die Jugend Marschiert' - alternatively titled 'America's Army' - proudly reps the part of my soul that wants all music to kick against the pricks.

It starts off rather inauspiciously, if somewhat suspiciously, with a clip of German children singing a jolly song. Unfortunately, the rapturous "Zieg Heil!" as it fades out suggests that this is no innocent school trip, but more likely something culled from a Hitler Youth propaganda film. 

So far, so controversial...

What follows is as anthemic a toll of introductory guitars as I've heard in any tune, punk or otherwise. The sheer climb and attack is such a statement of intent that one could be forgiven for expecting everything to fall flat from here on in. Happily, as these righteous Canadian firebrands forge on, the power just keeps coming.

 Lyrically, 'Die Jugend Marschiert' is creatively acerbic, delivering a military statement on nothing short of governmental control of a nation's youth. "Deep down you've always known: your children belong to us", chimes the matter of fact summary of this satirical address, with various other asides to control mechanisms and sublimated, nefarious end games. "Cut the outraged parent routine / Shut your mouth and get back in your seat" announces the speaker, stamping out any desire you may have to voice an opinion of your own. 

This song accepts no feedback, this is how it is.

Whatever your thoughts on the subject matter, Propagandhi, and this track in particular, have that key element of great punk rock; provoking a reaction through serrated guitars and sneering lyrics that refuse to cede ground. 

The initial allure lies simply in the riff, the long term replay value in the deeper topics mined by the lyrics. Whichever part I'm in the mood for, that ferocious opening never ceases to set my skin on edge.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

REVIEW: The Shins - Port of Morrow

Finally, it dawned on me this week: The Shins are THE indie/power pop of my generation. They'll be the band that, like Big Star before them, future fans look back to and ask how this band wasn't universally adored.

Not that James Mercer and company aren't well renowned. On the contrary, the band is one of indie's leading lights, still exciting fans for an album release at a time when heavy release date promotions seem increasingly redundant. Mainstream crossover eludes them, however, and they certainly won't be the name on your Mum's Christmas list (only 274 shopping days left folks).

And that's just fine.

Having The Shins in our own litle circle of indie royalty works for the selfish bastard in me, who doesn't want to hear 'Simple Song' in every strip maill from New Jersey to New Mexico (surely  they're both old now....I digress...)

New release 'Port of Morrow' rams that point home beautifully, residing happily in the suburb of gorgeously addictive, sunshine indie, rather than moving to the disparate and shallow city centre that is mainstream popular music. It is a safe place to which we can retreat, when keeping up with the latest fused sub-genres of the music we so love becomes confused to the point of fatigue.

That's nice Ste, so what about the songs, eh?

Well they're everything you've come to expect from The Shins, including that slight dose of the unexpected. The aforementioned 'Simple Song' has been hovering around preview listening for a couple of months now and provides the familiar face introducing us to this new group of tunes, as did 'Phantom Limb' and 'So Says I' on previous records. Before that, though, there lies the pleasing entry point of 'The Rifle's Spiral', a bounding, reflective song with a celestial underbelly. It contrasts exquisitely with its more ebullient neighbour, familiar yet intriguing in equal measure.

September by The Shins

Therein lies one example of just how Mr Mercer skillfully juxtaposes varied emotions, including the more downbeat, from song to song, whilst still managing to elicit an overall feeling of wellbeing as the last tracks spins out. There are lyrical cases in point as well, ranging from the wistful nature of 'September' ("I've been selfish and full of pride / She knows deep down there's a little child") to the seemingly bleak ("See you were my lifeline when the world was exploding / Footholds eroding") but tending to a more optimistic delivery. 'Fall of '82' in particular, from whence the latter couplet springs, is springing, spritely, and would barely hint at the underlying melancholy, were it not for their life through Mercer's words.

The Shins have only ever delivered consistently splendid albums and 'Port of Morrow' is a fine addition to their impressive canon. In my own personal rankings it probably places firmly behind 'Chutes Too Narrow', nestling comfortably alongside 'Wincing The Night Away' for a second place photo finish. 

Such is the quality of all the albums, though, that these placings are akin to picking out diamonds; there are important differences under the surface, but they're all strikingly shiny to the naked eye. Whether new to the band or a long time admirer, I can only envisage most who listen to 'Port of Morrow' to find it quite the gem.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

REVIEW: The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know

The Twilight Sad have, for me, always been a band whose sound well matches their monicker. Downbeat, introspective, and with layers of peculiar beauty, it's not hard to imagine aimless wanders along the Clyde at dusk, searching for something all too intangible.

On new album 'No One Can Ever Know', however, the Scottish group tread new ground. Or at least add some fresh earth to keep their sound fertile.

Fixed to their past material by that distinctive sombre vocal of James Graham, the band explore more than the contemplative indie rock of past releases (of which 'Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters' is heartily recommended). They branch into a number of 80's post-punk/new wave influences, from the distinctly Joy Division pulse running through the atmospheric 'Kill It In The Morning', to warmer Depeche-isms on ' Another Bed ', which seethes in the quietest possible manner to great effect.

Where 'No One Can Ever Know' excels is in weaving a disconcertingly positive feeling into songs that should otherwise remain unrelentingly dour. To further the obvious homeland allusions, the effect is not dissimilar from a shaft of sunlight breaking all too brieflt through the heavily clouded Highland skies. 

Take 'Don't Look At Me', which seems to relay the tougher moments of a torrid affair yet, in passages, burns brightly with optimistic synths and the touching cry of "I still want you!" Placed alongside other potentially redemptive songs such as 'Dead City', the contrast with darker moments like 'Not Sleeping' and 'Alphabet' leaves a lasting impression.

Not that The Twilight Sad don't still specialize in sound tracking those bleak, wet and foggy late winter nights, when the world seems so much smaller. They do, with room to spare. But they add space to the songs in just the right places, allowing the listener a moment to hope and dream before plunging back into the darkness. Therein lies the morose brilliance of this album and the skilled manipulators of emotion behind its creation.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Track Tricks: James Vincent McMorrow

Track Tricks is a completely whimsical feature, appearing only when an individual song moves my mind to deep thought. If you don't see it for a while, the music I'm listening to isn't good enough, so do me a favour and pop me some recommendations: @HeavierThanAir

James Vincent McMorrow's quietly contemplative ode to the simple things in life - those elemental pleasures to which all of us have access, yet few of us appreciate often enough - is an exercise in understated glory.

It's a track that has a distant melancholy floating around it, though the main thrust of the song revels in an optimist's world view. Lyrics such as "I'd rather be working for something, than praying for the rain" and "if I were you, my friend, I'd have a little trust", delivered in a hushed, serene lilt, shine a light on the darker parts of your day. 

Carried along on the barest of keys and lightest of percussion, neat little instrumentation additions pepper the song, lending poignant moments that extra depth. Take the faint triangle that skips in around 3.30, keeping the genteel heart of the song alive just as things begin to take a heavier turn. The redemption from that brief nadir, singing the same refrains but with a greater gusto, is cheered on by a confident drum, offering all the support needed to power on to a rousing crescendo.

It's a simple power that 'We Can't Eat' holds, connecting quickly and deepening with every listen. The subtle suggestions that creep into each subsequent listen are a joy to allow unravel into your consciousness, forging an ever stronger bond between the song's message and your own interpretation of it.

In that lies the power of the individual track and the unique quality that I'll be seeking out for this feature in future editions. Where do you find it?

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Our Favored Kid

A brief nod today to those most vibrant of modern hardcore chaps, Winnipeg's Comeback Kid. The new video for 'Do Yourself a Favor' being the occasion. 

It's a fierce run through of one of the best songs on 2010's 'Symptoms & Cures', one of my favourites of that year. In the classic tradition of hardcore videos, there's a ripping live performance of the song, replete with sweat, flailing limbs, and all manner of testosterone-fueled mayhem. 

Comeback Kid are, quite simply, one of the most consistent bands in contemporary heavy music, both for quality of songs and execution of that tricky old balance, melody vs brutality. If you haven't spent much time with their music, I'd urge you to delve deeper here or on Spotify.

This also affords me the chance to tell you about Shirts For A Cure, which is a great way to combine your love of raging hardcore/post-hardcore/metal with a project that seeks to help those less fortunate than many with their health care costs. If you're into the likes of Hot Water Music, Braid, and indeed Comeback Kid (as many of you reading most likely should be), snap up a shirt and give something back at the same time. Winning, indeed. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Mouthing Off: Santigold Riles Little Monsters With New Song/Video

Well, this is bizarre. Here I was about to post a simple video embed and brief song summary, then call it a night...

...but it turns out there's a little more going on with the new song from Brooklyn's Santigold, possibly involving (but not limited to) monsters, Ke$ha, surgical enhancement, fish, Lady GaGa, that fake lesbian one with the lips, and the vacuous world of pop music in general

Most of those being items that H-T-A would never touch with a ten foot barge pole - lovely fish being the obvious British exception - let's be the anti-TMZ and focus on the music, yes? Grand.
Photo Credit: Jackie Kingsbury

So it's a skittering little affair, riding in on a very tribal beat and developing into a vaguely rave-tinged dance floor filler. Buzzed through with intermittent 90's electronica effects, it powers the main diatribe of the notoriously acerbic Santi White rather effectively; that being, seemingly, the aforementioned power trio purveyors of throwaway teen pop, and their lamentable ever present status in our lives.

Having waited a good four years now for new material, this is perhaps lacking some of the charms held by her debut songs that so prompted the anticipation for more. Holding 'Big Mouth' up to the likes of 'L.E.S. Artistes' or 'Creator' certainly finds the former on the end of a sound thrashing in the lyrical stakes, although musically there's enough going on in the new one to hold promise for the next album, entitled 'Master of My Make Believe'.

You can make your own believe with a spin the self-titled debut here on Spotify. You can also play/download 'Big Mouth' below. Does it stand significantly higher than this new song to your ears?

Santigold - Big Mouth by santigold

As always, final judgement is very much reserved until I hear this in the context of the full release. Even on its own, though, it's causing enough of a stir to add extra momentum to the inevitable hype that's beginning to gather. If you listen carefully, on a quiet day, you might just be able to hear the publicist's hands rubbing together in self-satisfied glee. 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A Flash Flood of Solidarity

Thanks to anyone that visited in the last 24 hours, only to find a bolshy notice from yours truly having a little pop at those behind the SOPA and PIPA legislation. 

We're back and firing on all cylinders again now. The fight against unjustifiable curtailment of our Internet usage isn't complete yet, however, so if you didn't find time to take some action yesterday, here's some Google info on what you can do to prevent old media dinosaurs from trampling all over your web access.

All this armchair revolution has got my blood pumping...

So, what better artist to seek out for a revolting sound track (pun entirely intended) than Watford's feisty rabble rousers, Enter Shikari

Ah, maybe Refused? Or Rage? 

Or perhaps The Cla... well anyway, I went with Shikari.

What all this digital zealotry links neatly back into, is the fact that Rou and crew have a new album out this week. Following on from an album that rather fuelled my fire in 2009, 'Common Dreads', the new one is called 'A Flash Flood of Colour'.

A few spins in, I can't say that Flash Flood has forcibly wrestled my attention from its default lethargy in quite the way Dreads achieved. It does have that same riotous streak, however, and the tunes are vibrant with the energy that we've come to know, love, and find exhausting just to hear, let alone watch them deliver onstage, night after night. I digress...

There are some indications that the chaps are being influenced by the popular punk-folk revival of similarly rebellious voices back home in Blighty, Frank Turner and The King Blues chief amongst them. 'Stalemate' is one delightfully eccentric example of this, twisted just enough to make it a Shikari effort. Elsewhere, 'Arguing With Thermometers' is closer to the sound the band was honing on their last outing, replete with elastic synths, razor guitars, and the borderline schizophrenia of Reynolds' eclectic vocal delivery/ranting.

Obviously my hope is that this is a grower, that will blossom into the more world-wise sibling of its placard waving predecessor. There are enough positive signs initially to suggest that I'll be writing more on this one in the weeks to come. If you want to dig in yourself, the album is up on Spotify and has myriad order packages here

Try, enjoy, try more and buy more, if you so wish. What could be more logical and customer-friendly than that, eh old record industry timers?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Keep It Simple, Stupid

That particular business lingo acronym (K.I.S.S.) always struck me as unnecessarily abusive, given its intended goal of focusing attention on a core point. 

One need not linger long on the derogatory, however, when The Shins are back in building and spreading their gloriously buoyant indie pop into our lives once more. 

  Simple Song by The Shins

Without straying too far from their plenty successful methodology of elastic guitar melodies, stretching nonchalantly across twee piano interludes and the welcoming vocal of James Mercer, the Portland crew return with this their first cut from the next album 'Port of Morrow'. Set for March, it slides neatly into my "Eagerly Anticipating"category for this new year, as well as offering up the first ear candy of 2012.

After some bemused rambling on my part over on friend-of-HTA Alejandra O'Leary's blog, as I struggled to identify my more contemporary recommendations for the latter half of 2011, it's interesting to note that my mood has shifted again. Rather than continue to seek out older gems on Spotify, I find myself bemoaning the lack of new releases to dig into for this here year. Accordingly, The Shins appearing with new material this early on has been something of an oasis in the musical desert that is/was the holiday season. 

Confirmed for Coachella this Spring, we'll be seeing and hearing plenty more from Mercer & co in the coming months. Start feeding your appetite with a few spins of this tune and a little more info on the new release here


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Reunion Revulsion: When Is Enough, Enough?

At The Drive-In reformed this week. 

At The Drive-In Website Intro from MONDIAL on Vimeo.

So did Refused.
"We never did "The shape of punk to come" justice when it came out, too tangled up in petty internal bickering. We wanna do it over, do it right. For the people who've kept the music alive through the years, but also for our own sakes." [Full statement]

Jane's Addiction will be playing lesser known venues later this year and Soundgarden sauntered back onto first festivals, then regular stages last year. I saw Faith No More do much the same the year prior. Hell, even Pink Floyd might be back this summer, celebrating my homeland's attempt to not look daft in comparison with Beijing's massive Olympic effort. 

Rage Against The Machine... Portishead ...Kyuss (Lives!) ... I could go on, on, and thrice on with the much vaunted reunions that have peppered the last few years.

Rejoice! This is truly the golden age of classic bands returning! A second chance to catch all those you slept on in their heyday.


The Loss of Legacies

In all honesty, I am excited at the prospect of some of these second chances. ATD-I in particular could be the single most regrettable live oversight of my formative music years. Still though, it's impossible to ignore that nagging feeling that it could all go horribly wrong (admittedly, this pessimism may stem from all these long years supporting Everton FC). 

Firstly, there's the stench of dirty filthy lucre. I begrudge no talented musicians a pay day, yet the announcements usually centre on providing another opportunity for the fans and artistic objectives. Why, then, are the ticket prices often so insanely inflated - and the channels so restricted - that many of those fans are immediately cut off from the very spectacle they were so crucial to making a reality?

Beyond that, even if we offer the benefit of the motivational doubt, there's the more fundamental question of whether or not the band can still cut it. Many of us have deep rooted associations with these acts and their seminal works - myself very much included in the cases of At The Drive-In's 'Relationship of Command' and Refused's 'The Shape of Punk to Come' - and the sense that they stand immutable in time is an essential part of that. If they're to be resurrected, polished or prodded for a new audience, then we want it to be effected by musicians who still have the passion and chops to push boundaries still further, rather than rehash their way to an inferior version and experience. 

Money Where Your Mouth Is

So, by all means come back, worthy artists of my formative years. But be prepared to work even harder to prove that it was the right decision, not some  easy meal ticket before the demand for physical reissue product finally dries up and fans move on to greener digital pastures. 

We're ready, willing, and passionate to support you....if you are willing to support - and enhance - your own legacy with the qualities that caught our attention in the first place. 

If not? Then expect a rapid descent, from iconic standard bearers of a genre to laughable imitations of former glories, as quickly as you can say The Sex Pistols.



Monday, 2 January 2012

Random Recall: Musical Bursts of 2011

Around the midpoint of last year, my obsessive consumption of brand new music came to an abrupt halt.

The reason? Spotify's US launch. 

And maybe a few weeks whiled away on Turntable.FM (still haven't gone back...oops).

As I dug deeper into the seemingly infinite catalogue of music now available to me at the click of a button, I spent the time that might previously have been dedicated to Pitchfork's latest darling instead diving into the full works of artists such as PJ Harvey, Jackson Browne, The Kinks, Van Morrisson and oh so many more.

The end result is overwhelmingly positive for the listener and likely to mean some interesting changes to the way I present music to you here on Heavier~Than~Air. For the moment, however, I simply want to get the posts flowing again and have some unfinished business with the year of music that was 2011. 

To address that I'll be dishing out some missed recommendations over the next week or so, in lieu of any year end lists which would inevitably be only half complete. 

To start with let us ponder The War On Drugs. And not merely for their en vogue governmental nomenclature.

Like an overpowering wave of nostalgia flowing from the hazy fog of summer, this Philly group blend a heady mix of Dylan-esque vocals and a guitar sound that filters the melodies of dream pop through the meandering distortion of shoegaze, often emerging with a potent cocktail with which to party late into the night. Experience 'Baby Missiles' or 'Come To The City' to snag just that feeling.

Elsewhere on hit and miss debut 'Slave Ambient' (Spotify link), they simply lean on the meandering, ending up somewhere in the hot desert, confused and in desperate need of re-hydration. Should you feel the need for comparison, the rather aimless 'It's Your Destiny' should suffice.

Despite the odd misstep, this was an album that urged repeat spins throughout the second half of 2011. Initially fueled by lazy summer days, then propelled still further by that beautiful sonic drawl that so relaxes the senses, The War On Drugs delivered on enough counts to be recalled as a highlight of the year for this frequently distracted listener.