Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Vaccines - Come Of Age

No matter how much you a like a band, there's only so much of a barrage of constant force-fed hype around them that you can take when their praises have been sung ever since as if they were the messiahs of indie rock, especially when they've only produced one pretty good album. Even more so coming from a band called The Vaccines who are more viral than anything else; having seen them at least five times without ever intending on attending a Vaccines gig. 

To begin with, their largely promising debut 'What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?' gave hope that they weren't to be another overrated buzzband, coated in glossy narcissism, but 56 issues of NME later, I found myself rolling my eyes at the sight of their name and their album which had previously been on repeat, gathered pixels of dust in my iTunes library. With a chance to prove themselves this summer with a second album, it seems that the name of the first lends it's name more aptly to 'Come Of Age', with the potential to regain some weary fans who jumped off the Vaccines bandwagon, maintain the attention of the avid groupies and of course, piss off the hipster cynics. 

'No Hope' opens the album with what are comparatively empty guitars, chiming in to greet Justin Young's new egotistical snarling drawl. With their trademark lazy strumming and the hazy feel of surf pop, it's a promising start that's not just a regurgitation of what we've heard on the radio for the past year and a half.

One of the highlights comes in at 'Teenage Icon', which on first listen is fairly irritating and banal but the chorus crashes in like a splash of salty ocean water that sticks in your head and makes you listen again and again until it becomes the perfect pop song in its unabashed simplicity.
It's almost as if tracks one to three are the musical equivalent of a sunny Californian beach party that by tracks four and five, saw a depleted number of guests having lost interest and gone in search of a livelier and more interesting stretch of sand. 

Yet 'Aftershave Ocean' may be the saving grace; it's glowing guitar riffs skip over major chords with a harmonious tranquility that brings 'Come Of Age''s head above the water for air.
One of the most notable points of the album is 'I Wish I Was A Girl' which actually works incredibly well in all it's seemingly odd existence from a gang of four that ooze testosterone but they pull it off with a seductive allure that only asserts their masculinity and admittedly, does see them come of age from their debut. 

Taking a different approach to a new album is a bold move for a band like The Vaccines who despite their heralded glory have a lot of cynics rooting for their fall, something that could have been guaranteed had they not made any effort to push themselves to do something that we hadn't heard from them before. 'Come Of Age' takes some listens before your ears become attuned to its cacophony of jangling instruments and heart beat offbeats but I think that says something more for it in that it provides more justification for the indie pedestal they've been placed on. It's not perfect, but whether they're singing about not being teenage icons with sheer irony or sincerity, they've got a long way to go to prove themselves before they get there, but they're certainly making waves.


Bella Roach

Everything Everything - Cough Cough

You could be forgiven for forgetting what happened in 2010. The pace of changing tastes is one that anyone can get lost in and as such, we forget. Just to jog your memory, 2010 was the last time we heard new material from Foals and Arcade Fire and saw the last LCD Soundsystem record released. It also saw one of the best new bands in a long time emerge. Everything Everything were a refreshing take on the ever increasing amount of electronic indie that was breaking through. Their sound was percussive and blended intelligent lyrics with intricate and at times, difficult to follow melodies. To this day, it’s almost impossible to recite My Kz Yr Bf without slipping up. “Man Alive” was a triumph but one they probably toured just that little bit too much.

So then, it’s good to have the Manchester band back with new material. Cough Cough makes use of all the key elements that made Man Alive enjoyable. It’s got a beat you can dance to whilst in no way being simplistic. It’s got quick lyrics but still allows for a bit of a singalong; “I’m coming alive, I’m happening now” goes the hook. It’s got a synth line that pulses in and out with an almost prog feel but it doesn’t feel offensive. 

Everything you liked about the first record is still here, yet now it sounds that tiny bit more grown up. Of course, from one song, it’s impossible to suggest that they’ve abandoned the soft touch and songs about other people’s girlfriends, but if the lead single’s anything to go by, it looks like there could be a huge record on the way.  

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Embers - Tunnel Vision / Sins Unknown

Manchester band Embers have announced their first single release, double A-side vinyl ‘Tunnel Vision’/ ‘Sins Unknown’ which will be released on the 24th September. Both songs have plenty of grit, and bleak, spacious, atmospheric nature perhaps spurred by the notorious Northern drizzle.

‘Tunnel Vision’ starts with a sinister echo of guitar, soon accompanied by rumbling drums. The song develops into a huge, 5 minute long epic of loud, melodic guitars and urgent, reverberating vocals accompanied by a good helping of fuzz. ‘Sins Unknown’ is even more atmospheric in its build up, with a huge, frantic guitar and choir pushing the song to its climax.

This music is passionate and apocalyptic, with accomplished instrumentation and addictive, striking vocals. Two bleak but brilliant songs from a very exciting band, and definitely worth a listen. 

Holly Read Challen

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

2000Trees - Review

Every now and then, something comes along that makes Britain seem a bit better. Amidst the dreaded double dip recession, the over-crowded central cities, days of delays to planes, trains and buses and everything else that comes with being in our supposedly “Great Britain”, it’s nice to have a pick-me-up every once in a while. For many, it comes in the form of a quick bit of escapism. Visiting your favourite little haunt, reading the latest paperback fad (although if you’ve picked up 50 Shades of Grey in the last few weeks, I feel like you’re not using the internet properly), switching to a bath once in a while or staggering to McDonalds at 4am because they stay open later now and all that vodka is telling you that a 20 McNugget share box is the perfect remedy for your broken dreams. For others, it comes in the form of moderate sadism mixed with the kind of adrenaline rush that can only come from hearing your favourite band play your favourite song whilst other people share that experience with you in a field somewhere in the British countryside. The adrenaline is natural if festivalling is your kind of thing, but the sadism only comes from the glorious British institution that is rain. Over prolonged exposure to it, hypothermia, trench foot and general wetness become your vices whilst scatterings of sunshine seem to burn you quicker as you bask in its godlike glory. If you’re participating in festival traditions of fancy dress and said fancy dress is made of a material that doesn’t react well to rain, then you’re in worse trouble. Luckily, none of that suffering matters at 2000Trees.

It’s been chucking it down for days, with intermittent spells of radiant sunshine and even the mud being 2ft deep in parts of the main walkway (literally) isn’t going to dampen the spirits of the soaked five thousand in attendance. The festival boasts the best in the British underground and it has to be said that some match this boast much better than others. Thursday’s stage brings enourmous sets from Tall Ships and Tellison as the early bird-ers try not to drown in the endless downpour by dancing in an increasingly steamy tent. Tall Ships are winding up to their debut album release (can I get a “FINALLY”?) whilst Tellison are riding on the success of theirs so watching the two back to back really is a lesson in devotion of fans. The singalongs are massive, only topped by the intelligence of the riffs. Those who don’t give up are subjected to Imperial Leisure (seriously, people listen to that?) and treated to the loudest Three Trapped Tigers set ever.

2000Trees: The main event

Waking up on Friday you’d be forgiven for thinking your tent had been washed far out of the Cheltenham festival’s grounds as peering out of your tent, you’ll discover hundreds more have cropped up over night, seemingly replacing the clouds and grey with pure bright blue. Gunning for Tamar wake up the crowd, Maybeshewill post-rock the heck out of us with more stereo-panning than is ever necessary but enough quality to mask the issues and Lanterns on the Lake struggle against the setting but just about pull of their sunny set on the main stage. We Were Promised Jetpacks see their set compete with live extrordianares The Computers and both pull it off. Jetpacks with singalongs, Computers with pure energy that rivals tour mates and second stage headliners Pulled Apart By Horses. The Futureheads still think it’s 2007 but no one seems to mind until they acapella what was a promised electric set and never regain relevance after and My First Tooth are t
he surprise of the day bringing a bit of high spirited dancing to the Leaf Lounge tent.

The heavens open as 65Daysofstatic take to the stage and it proves to be for the best as the band thrive in extreme conditions. Playing mostly from their most recent record We Were Exploding Anyway, but with a diverse enough set to please even the most cynical of Trees-goers, the band pull of the set of the weekend and leave those brave enough to choose them over the Xcerts, Gallows and PABH glad of their decision.

Saturday brings a similar schedule of weather (it’s a British festival, I have to mention the weather at least once every 100 words or kittens die) only the downpour starts early on those in fancy dress (there’s about 50 very wet Lemmings plodding about) during a rather moody 2:54 performance. Another band that would be more suited to a tent out in the fields but nonetheless a band with potential even if their debut record was lacklustre. No one minds though after the likes of Fixers failed to excite but definitely got some heads turned and Dog is Dead who are quickly becoming the perfect festival act. You don’t have to be bland to be a festival act and tracks such as Young and Two Devils show their diverse influences and promising debut album in a good light. Elsewhere Johnny Foreigner yet again traverse their back-catalogue and still find room for the singles collection sub-headlining the Leaf Lounge before the ever serene talent of Lucy Rose, Ben Marwood headlines the Greenhouse at the remote far end of the festival to an intimate and dedicated crowd and Summer Camp play before Hundred Reasons who play before Guillemots. The booking order is baffling to say the least but I’m told that the first two worked. Guillemots perform with the usual elegance and insanity as ever mixing last year’s Walk the River tracks with forthcoming new material and the noughties hits. The crowd barely care but Fyfe Dangerfield and company close the festival in eclectic style.

It’s been a very British weekend, you could even buy tea and bacon sandwiches in a makeshift café or enjoy an ice cream in the rain. Wringing out the last of your clothes and looking back on the madness, it’s definitely a worthy alternative to Latitude and one worth noting the lineup for even if you do choose Glastonbury's little sister in the future. 

Words: Braden Fletcher

Photos: 1&2 Jacqui Sadler
3&4 Ben Morse

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Divorce - Divorce

Divorce are a forefront band of the modern hardcore scene in Glasgow, which has been slowly building over the last ten years or so, and has found itself embracing many experimental and avant-garde elements, making it one of the most exciting hubs for punk music in Britain today. Quite contained to a certain degree, it is very communal and is far more hard hitting, boundary pushing and ‘punk’ than most hardcore scenes around the world today. With labels like Winning Sperm Party, Methodist Leisure Inc. and Cry Parrot keeping the scene in high quality nights, and super cool releases, this DIY art movement has been Scotland’s best kept musical secret in modern times - a movement far too busy creating weird, loud, ugly and skin frying music to care if some twat from a straight edge band in Leeds would call them pretentious. Basically, they’re getting shit done, for the right reasons and with charm.

Divorce are one of the more high profile exports from the sect, a mish-mash-mess of drone, riot grrl, noise, metal, spazzcore and good ol’ fashion chug-a-chugcore. To give you a tighter image, just imagine what it would sound like if Crass had a fucked up blood baby with Bikini Kill and brought the beast up on Team Dresch, Black Flag, Sonic Youth and maybe Tool. Their self-titled debut is one mosh-trip-mosh epileptic fit after another, slathered in feedback and noise, almost drowning you under how inaccessible it is.

It is fair to note, from that, that you probably won't like this album on first, second, third or perhaps even forth listen. That doesn’t mean that this album isn’t for you. It means that your tolerance is still too high, lil’ cherub, and you have to fight through this, like a nightmare trip of visible noise and hallucinated clatters. And don’t get me wrong, there are many elements to chew-the-meat (if you will) and get yourself ‘down’ in the pit to, but this pit is full of feisty little demons that you’ll have to beat the fuck up to get past - kinda like the last Kerrang-twinged mosh pit you graced.

However, once you get into the heart of this album, there is a lot to be valued, because despite all the dissonance, feedback and ear-shredding noise, you realise the true brilliance of a band like this - this is actually a band pushing boundaries. This is violent riot grrl queercore punk for the modern generation - none of this is at all nice or pretty - it isn’t ‘gay’, it isn’t camp and it isn’t faggy - this is LGBTQ punk music that demonstrates its self-activism and proves its formidablity, far more than Lady Gaga ever thought she did. This is violent, it is loud, it is obnoxious and it is ugly. This is exactly what the cunts that still have a problem with queer society don’t want to take seriously, and are being fucking made to.

Don’t fuck with Divorce.


Eliot Humphreys

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Bloc Party - Four

After all of the tabloid-like press that the band have been churned through in the last year or so; almost all revolving around frontman Kele Okereke; it was beginning to feel like there’d never be a fourth Bloc Party record. So when the group finally announced they were back in the studio, the response was understandably one of relief and excitement. A few high profile shows (including three sold out shows at NYC’s Terminal 5) later and a lot of slowly leaked information later, here it is. So what exactly is the imaginatively named ‘Four’ all about?

Well, upon a first listen, it’s one of mixed feelings. Those who wanted it to be like the mid-noughties with another Silent Alarm were the first to be (rightfully) turned off whilst those who expected them to continue down the Intimacy/”One More Chance” routes of the latter end of their relatively shot careers (at the time), were also quick to make comments about Kele’s solo career affecting his return to the band. Even the mid-era lovers were slightly baffled by the heavier guitar, occasionally shouted lyric and less catchy chorus’. Was this going to be a hugely underwhelming record?

No, of course it wasn’t. Bloc Party, a band who’ve sat on the edge of bill-topping for about four years now aren’t exactly the kind of band that were just going to pick up from where they left of, nor were they going to bow to the pressure of returning to their oldest material. This isn’t a Stone Roses revival, there’s no failed musicians returning to their former glory here. Instead there’s four musicians here each of discernable talent moving forward in the way they always have; theirs.

Lead single “Octopus” is the nearest to the pleaser for the masses that many were expecting and even that signals a break from older material. The catchy guitar riff mixed with the intricate drum line and blend of powerful and delicate singing is all there. The only thing that’s loosened is the bass and I defy you to say that about openers “So He Begins to Lie” and “3x3”. They’re powerful, progressive and sound like they could fill arenas. Based on the Terminal 3 show that streamed and the hugely different setlists on the other two nights, the Londoners have already found ways to slot the altered soundscapes into their increasingly enjoyable shows.

There’s something for everyone in here though. For the Silent Alarmer there’s “Real Talk” and “VALIS”, with their more youthful side of their guitar and vocal led parts playing off each other. For the WITC lover; “So He Begins to Lie” is “Hunting for Witches” +6 years and “Truth” is the second half of “I Still Remember” and one of the most enjoyable calm tracks on the record. Finally for the Intimacy fan, there’s even “Team A” with a pulse built for remixing (whilst we’re on about remixing, check out the SLDGHMR remix of Octopus and tell me that you can’t dance to Bloc anymore).

For anyone ready to embrace a change in the band and take on a bit more rock into their indie dance idealism; there’s the rest of Four. I really don’t know what people are complaining about. It’s hardly perfect, it’s scattered and doesn’t really have a definitive feel to it and there’s certainly better Bloc on other albums, but as a collection, there’s no reason these tracks shoulsn’t be allowed to stand on their own feet with the same pride that Bloc Party have always shyly had.


Braden Fletcher

Friday, 17 August 2012

Spector - Enjoy It While It Lasts

The perceived wisdom is that in the early 2000’s British guitar music seemed to find a spark of life missing since the death throes of Britpop. Inspired by the sparky American sounds of The Strokes and The Killers and led by hot homegrown talent like Franz Ferdinand and Kasabian, picking up a battered guitar and a pair of Converse seemed like a sure fire way to musical success. Soon the gloss faded however and the latecomers to the party found themselves shut out in the cold. Spector frontman Fred Macpherson has done his time in indie also-rans Les Incompetents and Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man and seems to have spent most of it taking notes, possibly in rather flawed shorthand.

Still, his previous spells in the almost spotlight appear to have gifted him an apparently bulletproof stage persona; all self-consciously gawky glasses and ever-present comb in his top pocket. His presence may be more East London hipster than impeccably cool Brian Ferry-alike and the bon mots he drops in interviews may come across as snarky but calculated arrogance but if there’s one thing his band can’t be accused of its lacking a sense of the theatrical.

Unfortunately whilst a sense of drama is not something Spector are short on, a few lessons in both subtlety and originality would not go amiss. From the cover onwards ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’ is the shallowest album of the year, a ridiculous dredging up of indie rock clichés and fourth-hand ideas. The guitars are limp facsimiles of The Strokes whilst with ‘No Adventure’ and ‘Twenty Nothing’ they deliver a cut-price take on the Killers synth-assisted bluster. And don’t get me started on the ‘soul’ backing vocals, which are just too toe-curlingly awful to warrant column inches. There also seems to be a misplaced belief at work that Phil Spector achieved his legendary Wall of Sound by adding lots of frills and dialling them all up to almost Spinal Tap levels of self-parody.

Despite the numerous flaws there are at least one or two upsides however. There are plenty of reasons to hate the faux-Americanisms of ‘Chevy Thunder’ but the hollering pedal to the metal chorus is not one of them. Instead feel free to pick on the cheesy guitar solo, the portentous lyrics or the fact that if you stole a car to take out your girlfriend out in East London you’d be more likely to be caught in tailbacks from Olympic traffic than live out your budget Springsteen fantasies. Elsewhere ‘Celestine’ manages to use the album’s best melody in its opening line and hits such a velocity that it’s almost impossible to be swept away by its full throttle momentum.

Coming into this album I was quite prepared to deliver a hatchet job and don’t get me wrong in many ways ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’ is a wretched album but there comes a point when twisting the knife ceases to be fun. Part of the reason that the indie bands of the early 2000’s were so successful was that you really wanted to be Alex Kapranos, with his hand-on-hip come-on’s, or Jack White ripping out fretboard melting licks. With Spector you don’t so much want to be them as just give them a good slap. Enjoy it while it lasts? Advice the band should definitely bear in mind if this is as good as they get, but when Macpherson sings ‘You know I’ll never fade away’ you can tell that even if Spector themselves faded away tomorrow he’d be back sooner or later in another guise or another place, still desperate to hear his songs bellowed back by hordes of people, and that, in its own way, is kind of endearing.


Max Sefton

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Matthew Dear - Beams

Matthew Dear created a noticeable stir in the electronic music world a couple of years ago with his fourth full length LP, Black City. Without a doubt, a step up from his minimal and house-influenced roots in terms of production and scope, it was uncertain whether Dear could continue to deliver at the high level that he set for the scene.

From the opener, it is immediately apparent that Matthew Dear has what it takes to remain as a key figure in the electronic dance scene. ‘Her Fantasy’ utilises pounding beats and vocal samples over an ethereal and dreamlike backdrop, with Dear introducing the record with his deep, sensual vocal that made 2010’s Black City so striking. Elements of synthesised techno are thrown into the mix which unravels the haunting feeling of the track and hastily transforms it into a disco inspired club track. The vocal samples and electronic elements are increased in volume and depth as the track progresses and are weaved masterfully and contrast boldly with the low tone that is employed to deliver the cryptic lyrics.

The bar that was set with the opener continues to be matched with the succeeding tracks; ‘Fighting is Futile’ experiments with a beat that is reminiscent of the deep house genre, but sped up to create something infectious and memorable. ‘Up & Out’ plays with a trundling bass line, feathered with lighter touches from the twinkling keys and samples. ‘Overtime’ takes on an industrial sound, heavily relying on reverberated sound and space-age electronics to create its relentlessly fast-moving atmosphere. The lyricism while not a focal point of this style of dance music, is quite well realised and makes use of interesting themes; ‘Ahead of Myself’ and ‘Do the Right Thing’ being songs that feel particularly personal.

The main feature that is prevalent throughout this LP is the nightclub inspired sound that was fully realised on Black City, which is produced impressively throughout with the heavy and continual use of synths and incredibly heavy bass and deep vocals. As a full-length record, repetition can set in at around the midpoint of Side B, when it is most clearly apparent that all of the tracks share a common ground in that they are certain to work most effectively in a house/techno mix in a dimly lit club full of intoxicated dancers. Matthew Dear has developed his sound into something quite unique, however, and his style is instantly recognisable, despite being a drop in the ocean of an over-saturated genre.


Matthew White

Monday, 13 August 2012

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes

It’s important to remember that LA eccentric Ariel Pink had been making records for almost a decade before signing with legendary British alternative label 4AD for 2010’s ‘Before Today’. The blissed out psychedelia, and particularly single ‘Round and Round’ finally caught the ears of tastemaker behemoth, Pitchfork and set him on the road to, if not actual superstardom then at least the kind of cult following that would allow him to indulge his magpie tendencies for the foreseeable future.

Just in case we were expecting Ariel and co to deliver a more accessible record to capitalise upon ‘Before Today’s surprise success, opener ‘Kinski Assassin’s Beck/8 bit fusion seems to be an attempt to reassert his oddball credentials. Drawling lines like ‘suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs’ over glitch beats and a simple guitar line, it’s shamanic weirdness only barely hints at the deft songwriting Ariel manages to pull out of his bag over the following 40 minutes.

The most instant moment is the Byrdsian ‘Only in My Dreams’ which mixes a jangly guitar line with gorgeous vocals. It also reaffirms that ‘Mature Themes’ is a group project, with deft vocal interplay and a fully fleshed out Californian sunset vibe, as Ariel and his bandmates spin out their wistful backporch tale. The musicianship is gorgeous, like Avi Buffalo at their finest and it’s lent added nuance by the sadness tinged lyrics “If at first you don’t succeed at love, dream a little dream”. Wavves may think it’s cool not to care but Ariel makes trying hard all the more affecting.

Fortunately for those select few who were intimately familiar with the warped world of Ariel Pink before ‘Before Today’, alongside the specimens of great classic songwriting like ‘Farewell American Primitive’ there is also plenty of his characteristic weirdness, from the tongue in cheek ‘My name’s Ariel / I’m a nympho’ on the gothic ‘Symphony of the Nymph’ to the distorted drive-thru horror of ‘Schnitzel Boogie’.

Matching his psychedelic pop to a slinkier, synth-ier sound has its dangers, making ‘Mature Themes’ a brasher and less subtle record than its predecessor which really tried to weave its way under your skin. However, as the closing cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s ‘Baby’ wraps up the record on a moment of soulful melancholy it’s clear that one of pop’s most amiable oddballs has once more made a record that’s diverse and experimental without sacrificing pop craftsmanship.


Max Sefton

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The XX - Chained

The xx have a lot to live up to. Their debut album was the critic’s darling, making numerous end of year lists and of course taking the coveted Mercury Music Prize. Then came a period of uncertainty; Jamie xx was off doing lots of side projects, there were rumours that the band were going to split. But the trio pulled through, much to our relief. All this means that the follow up, ‘Coexist’, has become one of the most hotly anticipated records of 2012, and will probably be one of the most toughly scrutinised.

So far, so good, from what we’ve heard. Scrappy live recordings have appeared as the xx begin to show off tracks from the forthcoming album, but it’s the tracks they’ve released properly which will pique the listener’s interest. While ‘Angels’ could easily have slotted in on the first album, ‘Chained’ shows the band moving slowly in the direction which many would have predicted. Although it starts with those hushed vocals from Romy and Oliver that we all first fell in love with, they’re quickly underpinned by beats from Jamie xx which stand out a lot more than they did previously. His collaboration with Gil Scott-Heron as well as his various remixes suggested that the standard drumming on ‘Angels’ could be a one-off. It definitely works. As the singers lament ‘we used to get closer than this/is it something that you miss?’ the almost upbeat rhythms only add to the intensity of it all. The fragility and the vulnerability of the vocals is contrasted with a new-found confidence which is being shown off in the percussion, a confidence which could really be seen on their Conan performance, a confidence which will only make the band even better. The abrupt end to the track makes you ponder only one question; can the xx really do it again? From the sound of this, they can.

Jessy Parker Humphreys 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

July Playlist / Roundup

Yeah I know we're already in August, but here's a quick recap on some of the music us at Sound Influx have been enjoying throughout July 2012. We took a brief hiatus so there weren't as many reviews as usual, but here's our top picks and monthly playlist for you to delight in!

Album of the Month: Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

"That's just what this album is really, engaging and simplistic on the surface with complex under-currents presenting themselves in the lyrics, drum patterns and vocal delivery. It might be a stretch to call this Dirty Projectors' best album, but it comes very close to a flawless piece of work at it's best, only occassionally swinging lo." 9.0 / Toby McCarron
Full review here 
Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse

At first I was rather unsure about ‘Slaughterhouse’s DIY punk revival but after a few listens it becomes clear that Segall is not just a chancer aping his idols (Iggy Pop, The Replacements) but a songwriter playing with the same freedom and love of noise, melody and self-expression that his heroes did all those years before. Get in the garage and crank it up. 7.7 / Max Sefton

Full review here 

Spotify Playlist by Toby McCarron

Why the world is not waiting for the 'third coming'

As the Stone Roses triumphant Heaton Park gigs dominate music mags and TV coverage and the threat of new material hangs over us, it got me thinking: Do the combined forces of a moderately successful painter-cum-guitar hero, journeyman bassist, millinery enthusiast drummer and self-proclaimed Monkey King frontman have anything new to offer the world in 2012?

The lure of big bucks and prime festival pickings has persuaded many a set of sworn enemies to bury the hatchet somewhere other than each other’s backs. Some have been content to peddle the hits (Suede, Pulp, Pavement) and soak up the adulation they often only had the chance to briefly enjoy during their heyday whilst others have teased and tantalised us. Blur released their ‘Fool’s Day’ single for Record Store Day 2010 and rumours still swirl of studio sessions with William Orbit yet Damon has also hinted that the group may call it quits after their Olympics shows this summer. My beloved Pixies managed one new track; the haunted, fairground waltz of ‘Bam Thwok’ before, perhaps sensibly, deciding to play the nostalgia card.

A brave few however have ventured back into the studio and attempted to re-capture the precious magic that gave them their much loved back-catalogues in the first place. And these returnees have almost always fallen short of the mark. When Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe and co announced they would reunite in 2007 they reassembled a group Ashcroft had previously said would be ‘harder to get back together than the Beatles’ yet the sole product of a return to the studio was ‘Forth’ an unhappy mess with an ugly squawking lead single ‘Love is Noise’ which did it’s best to spoil the almost religious reunion gig experience. The spark amidst the cosmic swirl that had animated 1995’s ‘A Northern Soul and 1997’s seminal ‘Urban Hymns’ resolutely refused to catch light.

Unfortunately The Verve are hardly the only ones to discover the harsh truth: Any band that manages to capture the zeitgeist must cling tightly to it because when it slithers away no amount of expensive studio production and hearty rounds of applause for your past masterpieces can bring it back. Jane’s Addiction, Devo, Massive Attack and Blink 182 are just some of the artists who have been tempted back for love, money or unfinished business only to produce records that offered only a hazy facsimile of past greatness’s.
There’ll always be gifted soloists like Gil Scott Heron, Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen, who choose to duck out of the spotlight only to return as if the muse never left them but I can only think of two acts who have got back together and produced material as good as that which they recorded before vacating the spotlight. Deep breaths everybody because this one might be controversial: Portishead and Take That.

Britain’s Number 1 Man-band left us to the anodyne, emotionally manipulative strains of ‘Never Forget’ and ‘Every Guy’ (side note – does anyone actually remember that one?) only to return with the mature, intelligent, reflective pop-songcraft of ‘Patience’ and ‘Shine’. Whilst they may have since spunked some of this good will by welcoming their most tiresome band mate back into the fold and Gary Barlow’s desperate attempts to get himself a knighthood there’s no denying that both ‘Beautiful World’ and ‘The Circus’ are a giant leap in quality and sophistication over their boy band past. Meanwhile the Bristolian trip-hop trio waited over a decade to follow up their self-titled sophomore record with the equally excellent ‘Third’, a gorgeous, downbeat showcase for their stunning experimental soul/electronica which gave them an unlikely US top ten. Both these acts managed to conjure up a sound which evoked the spirit of past glories whilst also managing to sound fresh and contemporary but these triumphs are few and far between.

The Stone Roses in 2012 are far from the fresh faces who re-invigorated UK indie music in 1986 and it would be a shame to sully their legacy with turgid rockers or Ian Brown’s “freestylin” as a way to fill time between playing the solid gold cuts of their debut. It’s hard to begrudge those who were too young to see them in their heyday the opportunity for their own slice of the Roses legend or hard-up acts the chance to fill their retirement funds but the dignified thing would be to tour for a few years and leave their peerless recorded output unsullied.

Max Sefton

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Latitude 2012 - Review

As about 96% of the comedians appearing over the weekend hastened to remind us, Latitude is very middle class. Probably one of the most middle class festivals ever. There is a Loch Fyne Oyster stall and a Costa. There are morning yoga workshops, talks about the Higgs-Boson and radio 4 recordings. In the comedy tent people use pages from The Independent to sit on. It is basically Adam Buxton’s festival song, in real life. At least this means that a lot of the toilets are nice and, (hallelujah!) there are showers.


At i arena, Cold Specks aka Canadian born Al Spx, is asking the crowd: ‘Wanna hear a dirty cannibal joke?’ from behind her dark sunglasses. Instead she opts for a warbled version of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ theme tune, getting some of the words wrong. She manages to make it as ‘depressing’ (her word) as her own music. I can’t help but feel that her set would have benefited from a dirty cannibal joke.
More impressive, Swedish sister act First Aid Kit craft their famous harmonies dressed in swoon-worthy 70s style dresses on the Main stage. The early time doesn’t affect their beautiful performance, husky voices accompanied by clap-alongs and plenty of hair swishing. 

We head to the comedy tent to catch one of my new favourites, Doc Brown, a comedy rapper. Don’t let the phrase ‘comedy rapper’ put you off. As an ex-rapper, Doc Brown/Ben Smith knows his way around a rhyme. He is one of the highlights of the weekend, with his righteously angry rap about people who put the milk in first when it comes to making a cuppa. Next up is one of the biggest names in comedy, Tim Minchin, whose musical comedy has made him something of a rock star. His set includes old-time favourites such as ‘Prejudice’ and new favourite ‘Woody Allen Jesus’ (the song that was infamously deemed too controversial for The Jonathan Ross Show). Unfortunately, some parts of his set seem a tad too indulgent, with some songs dragging on too long and some gags coming across a bit too big-headed.

Another act which surprisingly disappoints is Alt-J, a band which normally impresses live with their intricate percussion and offbeat, catchy songs. The stage may not help; playing an enclosed tent may have aided the atmosphere of their set better. This seems a shame for a band who has just released a debut album.

The Antlers, luckily, don’t disappoint. Much rockier live than on record, they play a fantastic set in the Word Arena, including a beautiful rendition of ‘Two’ from third album, ‘Hospice’. Yeasayer follow, playing a set full of new songs, including the fantastic ‘Henrietta’. They also play some fantastic live versions of the ‘Odd Blood’ favourite, ‘O.N.E’, which catches everyone in the crowd by surprise. Neither the very drunk couple staggering into everyone, nor the annoying girls holding up a message on paper plates (and therefore blocking a lot of people’s view) can detract from a triumphant, highly enjoyable set.

Bon Iver is the headliner for the night, and plays on a beautiful stage decked out in fishing nets and lights. The set includes many songs from both albums, and it is a joy to see how well the ‘Bon Iver’ songs translate so well live, with Justin Vernon’s haunting vocals entwining with a myriad of different instruments.


It is early (11am) on the Saturday morning and already there is a considerably sized queue outside the comedy tent. Someone, half-serious, tries to start a chant: ‘What do we want? Science based comedy? When do we want it…?’ When at last the tent opens there is a huge rush to get to the front. People are running. What is all the fuss about? Brian Cox is in the vicinity, that’s what. The first event of the Saturday Morning is a recording of the last in the series of Radio 4’s ‘science based comedy’ show ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’. The show is co-presented with comedian Robin Ince, who brings his brilliant, enthusiastic humour to the mix. At the end of a very interesting discussion about the importance of both science and art in life (unfortunately simplified, rather confusingly, to ‘Science Vs. Art’ at first), Brian Cox is surrounded by teenagers as if he were (still) a rock star. Well, he is on the telly. And he does have very lovely hair…

Over on the Word stage, Sharon Van Etten plays a beautiful set. Her voice is husky and powerful, and this works very well with her fantastic guitar playing. The highlight of her set is the last song, with a plodding drumbeat leading up to a majestic, Sigur Rós-style build up, layered with echoing Warpaint like vocals.

Back to the comedy tent, we catch Josie Long at her finest; her enthusiastic and passionate political comedy is really impressive. She is not afraid to let rip onstage and go a bit mad either, which makes her even cooler. She really is one of the best stand-ups in the country!

Django Django play the teeny-tiny i arena in the woods, and there are as many people outside the tent, craning in as there are packed like sardines inside. There is such a buzz about this band, and there is no wonder; their angular pop sounds just as good live as it does on record. They also have a fantastic, energetic stage presence (from what I could see through the low branches outside the tent).

Later on at the i arena, Nika Danilova, or Zola Jesus is prowling around the stage, dressed head to toe in white. (“Its days like this I wish I wasn’t so committed to wearing white!” she laughs, alluding to the sea of mud). She is every bit caged animal as she eschews the mic stand for the majority of the set and paces the stage. Her operatic voice really is something, especially live, and versions of ‘Sea Talk’ and the powerful, bittersweet ‘Night’ bring a tear to the eye.

Later that night, Robin Ince brings his Late Night Revolution, a pick and mix of sketches and singers, to the Literature tent. This boasted the amazing Grace Petrie, who is the female Billy Bragg, pedalling stories of love and politics with the help an acoustic guitar and fantastic voice. Another highlight of the ‘Revolution’ is Johnny and The Baptists, my new favourite comedy folk band. They sings songs about having sex in a library (NOT the children’s section) and unrequited love amongst many other things, aided with fantastic violin playing and melodramatic singing. One thing the ‘Late Night Revolution’ was missing was a bit more Robin Ince/Josie Long stand-up, but alas, time was tight. Still, a very nice excuse to stay up late.


Reginald D Hunter and Rich Hall bring their unique views of Britain from Americans point of view to the comedy tent. Reginald D Hunter exudes cool where Rich Hall is grumpy, but with a twinkle in his eye. He shouts at teenagers in the front row who are leaving for a loo break, before deciding he wanted youngsters to leave, yelling ‘JUSTIN BIEBER IS A C***!’ to try and achieve this.

St Vincent plays at that time of the day on the Sunday afternoon where the lack of sleep starts to catch up with some of the less hardy punters (me). However, ANNIE CLARKE?! impresses, with a fantastic stage presence- red lips and jet-black, curly hair teamed with the perfect shuffle dance. Her sexy vocals entwine with amazing guitar riffs, and I’m pretty sure everyone leaves a little bit in love with her.

Slow Club open their set in the packed out i arena with a cover of ‘Disco 2000’ by Pulp, and end it with a party; their friends dancing onstage with pom-poms and bassist Steve/Sweet Baboo taking his shirt off to play the last song. Their set is a bit short of songs from debut ‘Yeah, so’, however, wellie-stomping ‘Giving Up On Love’ being the only one which seems a little bit of a shame. Perfume Genius follows, and what a heart-rending-ly beautiful set he provides. You can tell just how much Mike Hadreas connects with what he creates, and how much it means to him emotionally. The prime example is during ‘Mr. Peterson’, he himself cries just as much as many of the people in the audience. You would have to be pretty tough not to cry too. The atmosphere in the tent is spell-bound, the fragility and raw emotion in Hadreas’ voice and the delicate piano notes watched in absolute silence before being applauded enthusiastically. Hadreas is also incredibly humble (a really refreshing and appealing attribute), looking genuinely surprised when he said, several times, ‘I hadn’t expected this, thank you so much’ about the reception his beautiful songs received. We leave the set slightly emotionally bruised and a little bit breathless, with watery eyes and a feeling that we have just seen something incredibly special.

It does seem a little bit of a shame that the highlights of Headliner Paul Weller’s set are mostly songs by The Jam. However, he is not, as one smart arse near us claims ‘shit’, and even if he was, they are perfectly welcome to go and watch something else. Smoking endless cigarettes on stage, The Modfather does look just a bit, well, old. Too old for all this maybe. However, some songs from his new album ‘Sonik Kicks’ do go down well, especially ‘Dangerous Age’ with its doo-wap style vocals. When he does play the Jam, it’s fantastic, especially ‘Town Called Malice’, which gets everyone dancing.

Latitude was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, a beautiful site packed with countless activities and stalls and of course, the coloured sheep. The atmosphere was also incredibly friendly and not once did I feel unsafe, even when alone. This was topped off with an impressive line-up of music, comedy and literature. A really wonderful festival.

Words and Photos: Holly Read Challen

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Crystal Castles - Plague

It’s not an unusual or worrying absence when Crystal Castles are missing on the music radar, but more of an exciting adventure, like being led blindfolded into the unknown, being careful not to trip on the trail of empty bottles of Jack Daniels left behind in their midst like the Hansel & Gretel of indie electro.

The next stop on their sonic journey, ‘Plague’, opens with ethereal yet tortured synthesisers that whilst are reminiscent of the haunting of the deathly reverb that distinctly define their style, sound more apocalyptic than ever before. As the beats start to pulsate with an ominous sense of foreboding, the song begins the soundtrack to the recurring nightmare that much of the witch-house vibes that ‘Crystal Castles’ embody seems to conjure.

Whilst the step up from self titled debut album sees them move from a raving in games arcades to graveyards, ‘Plague’ almost takes you to the depths of hell itself. There is no remarkable change in sound or style but more a development on the direction in which they continue to head in. Whilst Alice Glass’ vocals are, as usual indecipherable and suffocated below a thick layer of distortion, there is less of a coarseness to them, and a more subdued shrillness.

The main source of disappointment here is the anticlimax after the euphoric rush of ecstasy, the song makes no effort in dropping back down to what seems like a lazy garageband copy & paste job on Ethan’s part.

It’s a surefire target for hipster cynics, arguably proof that ‘Crystal Castles’ haven’t got much left to offer following the demise of the 8-bit electro fad that they seem to have outlived but in Ethan Kath’s own words: “There’s no departure. We like how we sound. We don’t wanna change.” 

Bella Roach

Animal Collective - Today's Supernatural

"COME ON LELELELELELET GO" is our emphatic introduction to this new chapter in the story of one of the most celebrated experimental outfits of the modern era. It's an exciting first snippet too, and a pleasing reminder that new record Centipede HZ is imminent.

And boy are the expectations for that album high, as Animal Collective have been accumulating a rolling snowball fan-base through recent years peaking impressively with 2009's more accessible effort Merriweather Post Pavilion, a record that warped the minds of so many new listeners and downright impressed the old "they will never make a record as good as Spirit They've Gone..." crowd. And if that wasn't enough pressure on their shoulders, the dropping of what is probably track of the year so far Honeycomb earlier this year (not to be included on Centipede HZ) really got a lot of people riled up and awaiting the return of their overlords.

So, what clues do we get from this new track 'Today's Supernatural'? Well, with Avey Tare taking vocal lead with impassioned screaming and yelping, it seems like a trek back to Strawberry Jam era material may be on the cards. But although this doesn't sound a million miles away from tracks like 'Peacebone' and 'Fireworks', the production is notably more crisp and smooth recalling some of the Merriweather Post Pavilion aesthetics, just with a little more growl. It's not the most thrilling or even experimental track even by Animal Collective's standard, and may alienate some of the new fans garnered from their previous album, but it's good fun and exciting enough to signal another possible important progression for the band and modern music in general. Roll on September 4th.

Toby McCarron

Goodtime Boys - Every Landscape 7"

The first thing I want to clarify to everyone who may read this - Goodtime Boys are one of the best live bands in the country right now. A screamo five-piece from Cardiff fronted by Pennie (ex-The Automatic), their intensity is one of the finest I have ever seen, and if they’re touring anywhere near you anytime soon, you should definitely go and watch them. They’re doing a tour with Rolo Tomassi (and Oathbreaker) in the near future. Get involved.

Now that’s covered - the band are buzzing on a new 3 track 7”, which includes a new track, a remaster of an older track, and a cover of a Kate Bush track - which makes it probably one of the most accessible marketing strategies they could have gone with. There are some good corkers in this one, and it's definitely a good release to have on physical to just casually listen to, as it flows quite well, and being a fan of them prior to reviewing this, the splicing in of the old track adds a little familiar listening value.

‘Callous’, the opener, kicks in fast and hard - one of those, all instruments start at once type deals. I wouldn’t say that the track entirely gels with me, but it would be an intense track to be seen performed. ‘Harrow’ is a choice track off their second EP ‘Are We Now, Or Have We Ever Been’, with one of the finest sing along chorus hooks that I can think of. Their cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Under Ice’ is ridiculously different to the original (for reference, I had to look the song up) and in honesty, they pulled a lot more out of the track than Kate Bush did.

GTB have a strong ability of being able to write songs that have fine power, and are still heavy in melody and technicality. Often peeking and troughing, like a sea. It’s a good little release and if you’ve not listened to them before, this might be a good sampler of them before they put out their new, fully fledged EP. The 7” is due to come out in about a month, so if you’re feeling cheeky, you may as well pick up a copy. 

Eliot Humphreys