Wednesday, 30 January 2013

January 2013: Albums summary

We absorb a lot of music into our brains here at Sound Influx, but amongst our thirty-odd writers sometimes we don't get to review all the albums we'd like to of a month. So here's a reminder of the albums we did give a full review to, and our verdicts on the rest of what January 2013 had to offer.


Reviewed 


Album Of The Month

Everything Everything - Arc (9/10)



"They've done it then, the Manchester foursome. They've made an album that manages to balance the indie/dance/pop/experimental with radio playability and pure integrity. It’s not perfect, but we’ll be hard pressed to remember 2012 if more albums come like Arc this year. "




The Rest

Ducktails - The Flower Lane (5/10)


Fads come and fads go, yet some fads outstay their welcome. For his latest venture as Ducktails, Matt Mondanile seems content on clinging onto the ever-outdated nostalgic fantasy of the 80s, as recently exploited by genre-cum-meme ‘chillwave’. It’s a shame, as the record is strongest where Mondanile’s previous brand of oft-challenging psychedelia shines through. Title track ‘The Flower Lane’, for example, is a brilliantly crafted take on Todd Rundgren’s warped pop music of the 70s, and ‘International Dateline’ modestly achieves more than the bulk of the record, recalling the laid-back jangle pop of Mondanile’s main project Real Estate. These moments are lost, however, in a record that is ultimately all too harmless to make an impression. Will Hall

Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic (6/10)


The second album from the nostalgia obsessed Foxygen is about as divisive as they come. It's an album that scraps any notions of newness or innovation, instead dwelling on their past influences (Dylan, Rolling Stones, The Kinks) and occasionally outright copying them with rock cliché upon rock cliché. Played out hippy escapist bullshit swathes this album in a way that verges on hilarious: "If you believe in yourself you'll free your soul", "Because it's a bummer in the summertime, but everyone's going to have a really good time", "Rearrange your mind if it makes you feel fine" 

You get the overall impression though that Foxygen aren't taking things that seriously, the album's title alone is too ridiculous to have any real meaning behind it, making this a fairly innocuous and pleasant listen with catchy melodies, albeit with the occasional cringe worthy lyric. Toby McCarron

Nosaj Thing - Home (7/10)


The second album from LA beatmaker Nosaj Thing picks up on trends in modern electronic music expertly, with quirky rhythms and use of space. Recalling the work of artists like Schlomo, Shigeto and Flying Lotus, Jason Chung twists and contorts enticing sounds into something bordering on majestic. With guest spots from Toro Y Moi and Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, the album feels very studied and is realised with pleasing results. Toby McCarron


Christopher Owens - Lysandre (6/10) 


The sad news of Girls disbanding is still fresh in the forefront of people’s minds but frontman Christopher Owens has already launched his solo career and has finished debut solo album Lysandre as well as fronting a campaign for the newly rebranded Saint Laurent. Whilst the foundations of Girls’ music is embedded in Owen’s debut solo effort, everything has been diluted to a watery formula. The lyrics are pretty simplistic, the guitars quieter and the general atmosphere sounds too spacious for Owens alone to be occupying. The excessive use of saxophone is a welcome novelty on first listen but quickly comes off as cheesy after a while. You could be mistaken in thinking that Lysandre was a rush job but Owens has actually been working on the record from when Girls were still together. It’s not quite what we expected but as Owens says in ‘Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener’ “Everything to say has been said before and that’s not what makes or breaks a song” Aurora Mitchell


Dutch Uncles - Out Of Touch In The Wild (5/10)


With bands like Everything Everything and Django Django producing remarkable left of centre, yet still decidedly British indie pop, is there any room for Dutch Uncles to impress? The short answer is, not really. Out Of Touch In The Wild comes across like a more experimental and less beige Two Door Cinema Club record, with plenty of neat choruses but without much excitement in its experimentation. Stand out tracks 'Fester' and 'Flexxin' delight, but everything else feels worryingly hackneyed. Toby McCarron





Widowspeak - Almanac (6/10)


Duo Widowspeak's sophomore effort is an exercise in being lovely. The cover is beautiful and amongst the most visually appealing of the month, with the music being similarly calming with a vague husky sense of intrigue you might get from a band like Beach House. Enchanting, but not wholly memorable. Toby McCarron




Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold (9/10) 


2013 looks set to be noisy.  With The Men, Iceage, FIDLAR and California X amongst others set to release albums in the top half of the year, there’s not going to be a shortage of music to shred our ears to a pulp. Parquet Courts’ debut ‘Light Up Gold’ is not as abrasive and in-your-face as some of the above, and even boasts a degree of accessibility with songs like ‘Borrowed Time’ and ‘Stoned And Starving’. Although there are some gloriously shouty moments, including the strained shouting of “I WANT YOUR DISEASE” in ‘Disney P.T’. The production is quite muffled for a record of its caliber though, bringing to mind The Men. Aurora Mitchell

The History Of Apple Pie - Out Of View (8/10)



The debut album from East London small venue stalwarts The History Of Apple Pie transcends much of the hipster bullshit the areas they frequent churn out. Out Of View is an undeniably enjoyable record full of grungey guitars, sweet vocal coos and impeccable melodies. The Pixies like feel to tracks 'Mallory' and 'You're So Cool' placed alongside more straight up embraces of shoegaze guitar like 'Do It Wrong' is exciting and youthful enough not to feel like a rip off, and works as a fitting soundtrack for teenage angst or just a straight up celebration. Toby McCarron





Monday, 28 January 2013

Doppelgänger - Hate The Things You Love


The kind of impression you get when seeing a band like Doppelgänger live is analogous to when you see a lot of the bands with the same temperament perform. Taking inspiration from bands like Refused, Reuben, The Fall Of Troy, Bastions and Biffy Clyro (when they’re at their most moshiest), they do wear their influences on their sleeves, but that is by no means to diminish them; it’s what they do with it that makes them so enjoyable. You can see the energy fly out them, and you can hear it in the production of their recorded work. Having dropped their first EP ‘Playground Songs’ back in 2012, the band return with a new single. A little bit more straight forward than their previous material, that does not mean that they have lost the meat off their bones.

This song has many elements to it; the flaying guitar around the 1:15 mark is tense as fuck. A band like Doppelgänger understand the quality of a mosh-heavy riff, implementing at least three separate head-banging breakdowns throughout. And due to the tip-top production, duel guitaring and their bad-ass amp setup (i’ve seen it), the fullness of their sound definitely isn’t an accident. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Gold Panda - Trust EP


‘Trust’ sees the return of the innovative Chelmsford beat-maker, best known for merging electronics with Indian motifs on Pitchfork favourite ‘Quitters Raga’ and marks a break from his folktronica pretences in favour of the type of slippery rhythms popularised by Flying Lotus and Four Tet on either side of the Atlantic.
For a short EP it manages to cover a lot of styles, from the abrasive ‘Trust Intro’ into the glitchy deep-house cut of ‘Trust’ itself, through to the club orientated foot-shuffler ‘Burnt Out Car in a Forest’ where cowbell and click track combine to create an uneasy late-night ambience.

Though it’s torn straight from the Aphex Twin book of song titles ‘Casyam_59#02’, turns out to be the finest cut on the release. With quavering drawn-out synth notes and just a hint of static round the edges, it’s a spacious piece of brooding, chillout electronica and when the distant thumps drop around the three minute mark they give the EP it’s most sonically engaging moment.

Almost entirely vocal free and with top notch production, ‘Trust’ is an interesting, if slightly unfulfilling, experiment in taking in as many of the prevailing strains of dance music as possible from a musician who seems intent on letting the tunes do the talking.

6

Max Sefton

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Villagers - {Awayland}


In some ways, despite his young age and surprise victory at the Ivor Novello awards, Conor O’Brien has been a little unlucky. A musician in debt to Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath as much as to the wave of Irish troubadours like Damien Rice and Fionn Regan who broke through around the turn of the last millennium, his debut ‘Becoming a Jackal’ was a startlingly assured blending of folk, electronic textures reminiscent of Radiohead and Dylan-esque lyricism yet it never broke through in the way the more accessible Mumford and Sons or Ben Howard did a year or two later.

‘Awayland’ probably still won’t sell as many copies as the other acts lumped together under the ‘new-folk’ banner but the second album from the Irish wonderkid and his bandmates represents a steady development from the sound of their Mercury nominated debut. Astutely produced and mixed in Ireland by Conor and his bandmate Tommy McLaughlin, tracks like ‘Earthly Pleasure’ do a good job at positioning O’Brien as the heir to Van Morrison’s Celtic folk-jazz mysticism, whilst at the same time travelling further down some of the more obscure pathways hinted at on his debut.

On ‘Awayland’s lead single ‘The Waves’ it’s hard not to see links to Woolf’s novel of the same name, famous for its experiments with a series of narrators as trapped by the goings on in their own heads as they are by any physical constraints, in lines like ‘you’d better get back inside your cave / we’re all dancing with the waves’. Especially in the tracks like ‘Rhythm Composer’ which reflect on the nature of the creative process, he’s a top-class versifier with ear for both escapist lyricism and neat observations. He can also write a catchy tune as demonstrated by the catchy, harmony-flecked folk-rock of ‘Nothing Arrived’ whose ‘I waited for something but something died’ refrain manages to be both deep, graceful and surprisingly catchy.

Villagers approach to instrumentation is interesting and eclectic, bringing to mind a Northern Irish Sufjan Stevens with carefully deployed banjo and tenor sax, though there are odd moments in which some of the more experimental arrangements don’t always mesh well together. The climax of the aforementioned single ‘The Waves’ attempts a techno-inspired wig-out that sits a little unsurely alongside the song’s wordy pronouncements, whilst the circling synth riff beneath the pre-chorus of ‘Judgment Call’ actually distracts from O’Brien’s clever subversion of business speak into pop-song.

The odd flaws and the laughably portentous intro to ‘Grateful Song’ aside, ‘Awayland’ is a bucolic, escapist pleasure that re-affirms O’Brien’s position as one of the most gifted young songwriters around.

8

Max Sefton

Monday, 21 January 2013

Yukon - well, whatever happens, happens





Yukon is the musical alias of Alec Troise, singer-songwriter based in Staten Island, New York. His new EP, well, whatever happens, happens, is seven songs in duration and as summarised by Alec himself, “the EP is about girls, girl, despising the fact I live in NYC, ghosts, Johnny Foreigner references, girls, drowning, deer, whatever.” There is a distinct feeling of being in limbo, not quite ready to move on but not at all comfortable being stuck in the memories of the way things used to be.

Opening with I’m Sorry I’m Such An Idiot, the lo-fi production becomes apparent very quickly with his choice of a four-track tape recorder. Borrowing sonic elements from Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, the monophonic style and use of spoken word, he sets the tone for the gruff honesty to come, with his straightforward, no flowery language bullshit, narrative. The lyrics are as direct and as genuine as the emotions that have inspired them.

One of the highlights of the EP is Doe Eyes, seven minutes of diffused fuzz flecked strums, the hazy guitar adding an element of blunt realism which then abruptly plunges into a repeated scream of ‘you are the colour of a great ending’, a reference to Yr Loved by Johnny Foreigner, a noted favourite band of Alec’s.

Following this track comes Summer ’06 at Brian’s Lakehouse, though short in duration, it showcases Alec’s ability to take true stories and assort them into a well-versed format.

Self-titled track, well, whatever happens, happens, with its brutal lyrics matching its brutal delivery, stands out as another a notable moment in the EP. The repetition of “well, whatever happens, happens. well I can’t change that, well I can’t change myself” succinctly sums up Yukon’s sound, the set of lyrics acting as a string running through the multitude of themes that Alec explores in the space of his seven songs.

The EP concludes with a stripped back version of Doe Eyes taken from his session with Village Basement. Though lacking in the 90s emo tinged vibe that the previous version offered, it demonstrates the malleability of the track, still feeling fresh on the ears despite the two versions being only four songs apart.

Though Yukon is still a solo project in its infancy, Alec has created a significant dent with this EP in his slowly developing sound that, with future recordings, will hopefully become much more refined into a distinct sound that will become a staple to our soundtracks of heartbreaks to come. 

7

Jess Rahman

Sound InSession #1 Pt2: Yukon

Earlier today we told you the story of how it came to pass that Sound InSession was born. I'm sure you remember; if not, don't worry it wasn't very interesting. In short, Woodpile Sessions and Sound InSession have been born and married at the alter of filming live music and we got Yukon along for the ride for our very first attempts.

Once we departed the tube (going to the tube in the first place may have been a little overambitious for our first attempts), we took the trip to Brick Lane and Shoreditch with Yukon, a first time visitor to the country. He then graced us with two more tracks. The first, I'm Sorry I'm Such An Idiot was filmed in the construction of 8 Bit Lane by Rough Trade and the second, a cover of Oh No Oh My's I Painted Your House was taken upstairs at Shoreditch's Box Park. Next time, we're planning this better.




Thanks to Yukon for playing for us and being such a good sport as we showed him around London.

(NEW) Sound InSession #1: Yukon

Some days you wake up with an idea that just won't put itself back to bed no matter what. Whether it be to pay your overdue rent or finally try that special flavour of coffee at your local cafe that's been eluding you to date. In our cases here at Sound Influx, for some time we've been pondering the idea of joining the moving pictures world and filming our very own sessions.

Our sessions, we thought, would fall somewhere between the iconic TakeAwayShows of Paris and the instantly recogniseable Courtyard sessions that The Fly create. So, we put our heads together and picked up our collective cameras and head out into the streets of London in an attempt to make this pipe dream become a reality. Along the way, we met our good friend Sam Hopper who, incidentally had similar plans to us with the Woodpile Sessions and we formed an alliance.

Now all we needed was an artist. As it so happened, our friend from NY, USA, Alec also known as Yukon was making a trip over the Atlantic and was willing to make his first UK appearance with us across our nation's capital. So, we hopped onto the Waterloo and City line with him, forgetting quite how loud, bumpy and cramped said turquoise line was. What resulted was the following two videos.

1.1 - Doe Eyes

1.2 - Well Whatever Happens, Happens


Stay tuned later in the day for what happened when we (rightly) got off the Tube and travelled to east London. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Toro Y Moi - Anything In Return


For an artist that became known as somewhat of a trendsetter back in 2009, with the birth of a notorious genre test-tube baby 'Chillwave', it's encouraging to see Chaz Bundick aka Toro Y Moi paving his own way. 2011's 'Underneath The Pine' was a fine piece of experimentation, with a backing band full of actual instruments preferred to the 'one-man-and-his-laptop' style that categorised his debut 'Causers Of This'. The record also touched upon some interesting genre blurring, with funk and jazz explored over the more conceptual tracks themed primarily around the cheery subject of being buried. His follow up EP 'Freaking Out' too displayed a different side to Toro Y Moi, a more disco-centric and dizzying one that was arguably his most impressive shift to date.

With third album 'Anything In Return' Chaz very much builds on the disco from 'Freaking Out' and to an extent, the funk and overall sexiness of 'Underneath The Pine'. Primarily, the record is an upbeat pop project, delving into the world of samples and electronic grooves, touching on everything from dance music ('Say That') to 90s boyband corniness ('Cake') with mixed results. There are certainly moments on the LP that grate for all the wrong reasons, the pained attempt at falsetto on 'Studies', the annoying vocal loop on 'Say That', the Justin Bieber reminiscent 'Cake'. But, it comes apparent that this is not an album to be taken entirely seriously, Toro Y Moi hasn't crafted the kind of chin stroking "hmm isn't this a strange new genre" music people expect of him, but rather a record that he wanted to make and sounds like he had fun making.

The fun does rub off more than it turns sour luckily. 'So Many Details' with its pulsing bass and fluttering 80s sensibility is undeniably smooth and enticing. 'Rose Quartz' also treads the disco line impeccably providing the album's most spine-tingling moment, with Chaz's strained coos of "I feel weak, uh huh" sounding entirely convincing and sexy. Fun can be had elsewhere with the effortless 'Cola' which could easily have come straight off the Drive soundtrack, and the tropical bombast of 'High Living' borders on lounge music but has enough going for it musically to narrowly avoid soundtracking millions of elevators and cruise chip adverts worldwide.

This perhaps isn't Toro Y Moi's most cohesive work, but the sense of fun and artist determination behind many of these tracks is the prevailing factor between an interesting art-pop project and a damp and corny flop of a record. 

7

Toby McCarron




Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Mystical Weapons - Mystical Weapons


Billing itself as an improvisational project by Sean Lennon (The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger) and Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) featuring video projection from artist Martha Colburn, Mystical Weapons don’t really fit in with any of the conventional things you’d expect from a band. The partnership came after Deerhoof played a San Francisco show with Sean’s mum, Yoko Ono, a few years ago, and it seems to be a vehicle for the two to explore their furthest-out musical ideas.

Like one of the Flaming Lips wackier adventures, the thirteen tracks which make up this release range in length from one minute to six minutes and stylistically from blissed out Hawkwind-esque space rock to tortured squeaks and splutters to somnambulant piano jazz. Divorced from their visuals, the monstrous space-rock of ‘Impossible Shapes’ drifts like a spaceship through an asteroid field of jazzy drums and heavy, winding synths. However it’s one of the few tracks that truly stands out. Taster track ‘Mechanical Mammoth' opens with creaks like an old door being swung back and forth, takes in a barrage of oriental chimes and then exists without ever attaching itself to definable melody and approximately fifty percent of the material here can be written off in the same manner.

As any fan of Deerhoof will know Greg Saunier is a fantastic drummer, letting rip with a Bonham worthy barrage on ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ and pin wheeling off Lennon’s exotic, eastern guitar riffs until the whole mix sounds like Led Zeppelin re-enacting War of the Worlds but most of the shorter tracks like ‘Dirty Neon’ and ‘Distant City’ merely fill time until the phasers kick in.

Overall, it’s an interesting experiment that probably works much more effectively alongside its accompanying visuals but at the risk of missing the point of the exercise, it’s hard not to wish Sean had inherited a bit more of his father’s gift for melody alongside his mother’s penchant for an out-there artistic statement.

5

Max Sefton

Everything Everything - Arc



Coming out of Manchester with a boom in 2010, Everything Everything’s Man Alive broke the top 20 and saw them tour extensively in support of it to cement their places as more than a hype-act. From the hooks of Suffragette Suffragette through the whistles of Schoolin’ via the borderline unsingable singalong of My KZ Ur BF, Man Alive erupted with a kind of energy and sound that the likes of Dirty Projectors championed and Alt-J have since re-tuned to their Mercury winning benefits. Almost 30 months later and the four-piece are back with Arc. Cough Cough exuded the jumpy excitement of a child on strawberry laces and reignited the fire that EE left behind, so what does the rest of this record have to offer? 

Well, once you get past the distinctly boring cover that looks like Jamie Hewlett attempting to use photography to portray the mundanity of life; you’re greeted once more with the nonsensical power that is Cough Cough. Kemosabe, the second single follows (is it just me or is that pretty lazy decision making?) with a pulse that builds to a sound that’s almost Tune-Yards.


From here on out though, Arc is a different album. Those who heard the indie-hits of Man Alive and expected the same from Cough Cough onwards are going to be pleasantly mistaken as what you get from Everything Everything’s second effort is a record not built on juvenilities and crowd expanding radio belters, but instead on taking the most enjoyable and fun aspects of their music and maturing them into a record that sounds expansive to the point that the album is not so much coercive as it is defined and structured.


What starts as fear for what could have easily been an average album through Torso of the Week quickly becomes, well, everything else. Whilst some of the music you’ll hear on Arc can make you question if the band still have that catchy vibe they used to, the impending doom that crescendos through the likes of Undrowned and cascades over the serene _Arc_ leads to Armourland which is little short of magical. It forces you to dance in about three different manners, jumping from side to side before swirling in the romance of the refrain before most-likely embracing all around you as it dissolves into This House is Dust and beyond. Let’s not even get started on how life affirming The Peaks is. 

They’ve done it then, the Manchester foursome. They’ve made an album that manages to balance the indie/dance/pop/experimental with radio playability and pure integrity. It’s not perfect, but we’ll be hard pressed to remember 2012 if more albums come like Arc this year. 


9

Braden Fletcher

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Men - Electric


Looking for something to bludgeon your face in this spring time, along with the new Iceage album? Well, lucky for you The Men are back to follow up their 2012 opus 'Open Your Heart' with new album 'New Moon' on Sacred Bones (presumably not an ode to the twilight book of the same name).

The first track to be previewed from the album, titled 'Electric' is just as dizzying and thrilling as you'd expect. Pummelling guitars and their trademark badass sentiment take precedence here, in a way that could make anyone inhibited enough completely lose their shit. March 5th can't come soon enough.

Toby McCarron

A$AP Rocky - Long. Live. A$AP


A$AP Rocky has a lot to live up to. With his extensive mega-bucks label contract putting what he describes as "0s in my bank account", his cohorts producing arguably some of the most important music of 2012 (his cohorts being the accomplished Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, not his rowdy a$ap mob) and an acclaimed mixtape in 2011 'LiveLoveA$ap', Rocky is in a tough position, albeit one cemented in dollars and his self-attained army of "twitter bitches".

The anticipation for A$AP Rocky's debut however was stunted mildly in 2012 with an ever-stretching target of release date. "Summer" turned to "Fall" turned to "The end of the year", and interest moved sideways onto the stars of the here and now like Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, with Rocky simmering under with one great single ('Goldie') and a healthy dose of controversy in spats with SpaceGhostPurrp and apprehending foolhardy punters who had the audacity to try and swipe his Rolex at a show in London. But despite all the build up and doubts over the release, the rapper who has been accused of style over substance, apart from his magnificent talent to scout only the hippest producers like Clams Casino and Hit Boy, has delivered a major label debut to be proud of even if it is a tad self-indulgent and silly.

The title itself 'Long.Live.A$AP' shows a self diagnosed grandeur that A$AP Rocky revels in, as he spins rhymes away about the trials of becoming famous, and the obligatory quirks it brings. In fact, from the opening track A$AP immediately plots his manifesto for eternal life; "Who said you can't live forever lied, of course, I'm living forever now", although you get the sense this isn't an elaborate delusion, but instead a burning will to be remembered as one of the greats as he shouts out the likes of ODB and Three 6 Mafia. Rocky's desire however, although probably genuine, does seem a little bit try-hard at points on the record, such as the painfully drab ScHoolboy Q featuring 'PMW' where the two MCs resiliently brag about the benefits of copious drug use and fornication in a way that seemed played out about 2 or 3 years ago when Wiz Khalifa and the like came into prominence. Rocky also seems a little too eager to impress on the two Clams Casino penned tracks in the first half of the record, which largely flounder in comparison to older cuts like 'Palace' and 'Wassup' in memorability and beat emphasis. It seems as if Rocky only booked Clams Casino on the album to satiate the music purists who hailed his production as the best part of LiveLoveA$AP (which it arguably was) while being largely at odds with the rest of the largely fun album with the tracks drab progressions and lamenting often whiny lyrics. That being said, Santigold does a bang-up job on the chorus of 'Hell'.

Undoubtedly the best songs on the album, are the ones where A$AP Rocky eases up a bit, and has some fun. The album's two major singles, the infectious 'Goldie' and the OTT bravado of 'Fuckin' Problems' are highly entertaining and the latter even brings out some neat work from the usually lacklustre 2 Chainz. Similarly, 'Fashion Killa' which surely must be in line for the album's forthcoming single, is a somewhat clichéd yet joyous play on A$AP's 'Pretty Motherfucker' tag with a ridiculous buy fun chorus and some laboured listing of fashion brands. The Skrillex produced track 'Wild For The Night' is incredibly dumb, but revels in it so much with the insanely loud siren like blares and commanding deepened robotic vocals it becomes nothing more than a celebration, and a track that lends itself perfectly to sweaty dance-floors. '1 Train' too hints at a bigger picture for the future of rap, with killer guest verses from Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Danny Brown and Big KRIT just for starters (let's ignore Yelawolf's contribution to the track). With Hit Boy's dramatic piano laded beat, it's a recipe for the closest thing A$AP Rocky has to a classic song.

Long.Live.A$AP in the end satisfies throughout, with its mix of heady bangers and restrained  more blog friendly cloud rap. It might not be an instant classic or a 'Good Kid MAAD City', but it is a fun ride. 

7

Toby McCarron


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

David Bowie - Where Are We Now?


It would appear that this morning the world woke up and simultaneously all went on Twitter to declare “OMFG NEW BOWIE SINGLE?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!”. ‘Where Are We Now’ is taken from ‘The Next Day’, David Bowie’s first album in 10 years, also announced today to coincide neatly with his 66th birthday. The single is an astonishingly beautiful lament to Berlin, a place where Bowie spent a considerable amount of time back in the 70s and clearly holds dear. His voice sounds older, in many ways better, but is still recognisably that of the man who first hit mass popularity over forty years ago. Slow, drenched in synths with a melancholy piano, and a mind bending video just to round it all off, one thing is clear; Bowie’s back. And it’s brilliant.

Jessy Parker Humphreys 

Blood Red Shoes - Water EP



Not content with resting on their laurels, 9 months after releasing their third record In Time To Voices, Blood Red Shoes are back with an EP that's got more bite than we've known from them in a while. The Water EP takes the rock edge of the duo that was sadly absent on much of In Time To Voices and puts it through the grinder across three huge tracks.

Opening with Red River, the tenacity of the singles collection of the first two records is back. There's a dirty sounding lower end to Laura Mary's guitar that never goes away but that's backed up by a killer-hook and arena sized pulse that even the likes of the Kills have struggled with from time to time. It's truly a return to the powerful form that many considered to be lacking on their most recent effort.

On Black Distractions, drummer Steve Ansell takes the lead as Queens of the Stone age appear to be being channelled through the Brightonians. From the refrain's "when you close your eyes I'll be there to summon the devil inside of you" through to the intricate cymbal crashes and grungey bass line, Ansell is every bit Homme's understudy for 2:38minutes.

As you reach the third and last track on the Water EP, you can't help but wonder why it's over. Whilst Idle Hands is a fitting closer track, oozing over with the kind of fuzz that you'd expect a band of such a high live caliber to leave resonating through any venue they're allowed into; you want more of the same. Whilst In Time... had its moments in Cold and Je Me Perds, it never lifted off in the same way as you got with Box Of Secrets back in 2007 and for that you wondered if BRS' steady growth had capped itself. In the Water EP however, you're reminded of what a tour de force the power duo can be, even if in far too short a burst.

7

Braden Fletcher


Iceage - Coalition


Back with the follow up to their critically lauded and brutal debut 'New Brigade', are everyone's favourite Scandinavian punks Iceage with a new album titled condescendingly 'You're Nothing'.

This new cut previewed on their blog 'Coalition' is just as snarling and snotty as we've come to expect, with frontman Elias spouting in a slightly more comprehensible manner than in the past. However, the ramshackle element of the debut has been streamlined somewhat into something more accomplished and cohesive, the song may be a barrage of noise, but it is obviously a very well put together one. Hopefully this won't lead to Iceage completely compromising the raw emotion that makes them so exciting, but 'Coalition' is full of energy and a hell of a lot better than anything any other modern punk bands have been coming up with.

Toby McCarron

Yo La Tengo - Fade



Ira Kaplan told Pitchfork that ‘Fade’ is the New Jersey trio’s attempt to ‘Cut down on some of the sprawl’ after 2009’s ‘Popular Songs’, which featured not just one, but three tracks clocking in at 10 minutes apiece. However as this trilogy represented some of their most interesting and atmospheric material to date ‘Fade’ initially feels like something of a step backwards, with the New Jerseyites slipping comfortably back into the sort of material they’ve covered in their previous two decades of existence.

Lead single ‘Ohm’ still rings in at almost 7 minutes so it’s not as if they’re trimming the material down for the sake of radio play or accessibility, this edited version of the Yo La Tengo modus operandi is purely a stylistic choice. Named after the unit of electrical resistance, it pushes against the confines of the rock single with a simple circling melody that swallows you like a familiar old shirt and with lines like ‘Sometimes the good guys lose’ it feels like a suitably downbeat manifesto for the album as a whole.

At their finest Yo La Tengo sounded like Arthur Lee’s Love, past masters of meshing the excursive with pop classicism, being covered by Sonic Youth. Disappointingly there’s little of Kaplan’s minimal, perfectly formed soloing here. In the past it was his fuzz-bomb licks that animated Yo La Tengo’s poppier moments but on ‘Fade’ the trio immerse themselves in a mixed bag of meandering ballads and swampy keyboards. Drummer, Georgina Hubley’s ‘Cornelia and Jane’ is a delicate piece of melancholy, sounding like a 2am answer to Beth Orton. It’s companion piece ‘Two Trains’ uses Dylanesque imagery of life ‘before the fall / before the flood’ but the track drifts so aimlessly that it’s hard to get worked up about whatever it is that concerns Kaplan.

Elsewhere there’s a sweet melancholy to the folksy guitar melody of ‘I’ll Be Around’ and it’s lyrics ‘stare at this space looking for you’ and lost love seems to be a prominent theme here but emotional catharsis aside, it’s the unexpected moments here which are the most exciting.

Opening with steady clipping drums ‘Before We Run’ is lifted skywards by mournful brass and sudden bursts of string; the sparse, solid drums alone give it a feeling of humanity which eclipses anything that preceded it and for a moment you can feel the warmth that makes the trio so special. The problem with ‘Fade’ is that whilst it should consolidate their position in the upper echelons of traditionalist indie-rock but it’s doesn’t exactly point the way forward. Three years ago, ‘Popular Songs’ featured a cover image of a tape unspooling. It would be a shame if Yo La Tengo were to do the same.



6


Max Sefton

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Fuzz (Ty Segall and Charles Mootheart) - This Time I Got A Reason / Fuzz's Fourth Dream



Will someone tell me why the fuck we’re still enabling Ty Segall? The man makes lowest common denominator garage rock and nothing else, cover features and think pieces will never change that. Supposedly Fuzz were intended to be an anonymous project, with Segall and whoever else is responsible for this shit keeping their identities under wraps. Artists who choose to keep schtum about who they are often are the ones who make music that’s attempting to be modern or forward thinking, but remaining anonymous while making shitty rock music for people who like their nostalgia delivered by smug asshats who have an understanding that what they’re doing isn't some reverential homage to the guitar-shredders and pissed-off small-town dreamers who made garage rock into an escapist art form isn't a knowing nod to the facelessness of that bygone era, it’s a misguided attempt at making some of the least interesting music to ever surface a sheen of respectability.

In a feature on Segall in the Guardian’s G2 magazine, the writer of the piece stated that the live show he had just witnessed was the kind of gig that made kids go home and start up a band, and I don’t know if it’s the thought of an artist this witless holding that kind of power or the thought of an army or moronic garage rock bands being allowed a sheen of legitimacy is a more terrifying prospect. Even though Segall and his myriad recording projects all succeed from appealing to people’s nostalgia, he represents a very modern concept: he is the human embodiment of the culture of constant content. He churns out this muck and people keep on listening, not because it offers anything of value, but because people can’t resist constant newness.

Ned Powley

The xx - Sunset (Jamie xx Edit)



The xx’s Coexist was a funny thing, what with its moments of gorgeous clarity being fogged by a miasma of tedium and its apparent reluctance to fully engage with the stylistic shifts it looked certain to make. The tragedy of the band threatening to release an album that merged a club sensibility with the minimalist intimacy of their debut and the resulting record being a collage of beige hasn't really worn off (and neither has the irony of its best track being the least danceable song they've ever produced). But out of this genteel car crash has emerged something quite brilliant.

Though not a huge departure from the original in terms of melody and structure, by putting the emphasis more firmly on the deep drum pattern (and by giving it a stronger 2-step feel) the whole thing becomes at once more beautiful and miserable. The vocals no longer take centre stage, but they feel like a more cohesive aspect than they did in the original, which relegated them to being a dampener for whenever the beat’s warmth threatened to push through and spoil all the fun Romy and Oliver clearly weren't having. If nothing else it’s a pertinent reminder that Jamie xx, for all the talk of his significance to the group, operates far better when he’s off in his own little world.

Ned Powley

AlunaGeorge - Diver




It's been a pretty impressive day for r&b duo AlunaGeorge today. Voted number 2 on the BBC's annual and influential Sound Of 2013 list, and releasing a cut from their summer-bound debut, 'Diver' (via The Line Of Best Fit). The album's title track is more laid-back than we've come to expect from from AlunaGeorge's highly danceable 2012 singles 'Your Drums, Your Love' and 'You Know You Like It', yet sounds distinct to the duo with swathes of synth, Aluna's trademark nonchalant and bordering on sexy vocal style and another stuttering pitch-shifted hook like on 'Your Drums...'.

If the rest of their 2013 output is on this level, AlunaGeorge could well be an international musical force to be reckoned with. And even if it isn't, this will still do quite nicely. 

Toby McCarron

FIDLAR - FIDLAR



There are times when we all want to lay prostrate on the floor and weep as something light and melodic whispers it’s gentle acoustic lullaby to us as we think of the one who got away and hold a pillow close to our chests. There are also times when you get up from that position and realise you want to just drink beer, smash automatic doors off their hinges and end the night upside down at the bottom of a concrete staircase. Luckily, to cover the latter, there is FIDLAR.

FIDLAR are a four-piece punk outfit from Los Angeles and I use punk in the official sense, not as some kind of fashion campaign by Topshop. They took their name from the skater saying ‘Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk’ and although they won’t change the world on this first outing it is evidence that there is still room for a dumb and brutal rock album. This is a venture into feedback and riffery that isn’t particularly vogue at the moment but clearly doesn’t give a shit.

Opening track Cheap Beer drops in like Black Flag, it could drive you out to the desert and leave you for dead. The chorus (“I drink cheap beer, so what fuck you”) is fit to be screeched back to them in packed out, leather clad, sweaty clubs, or indeed as it turns out at festivals. FIDLAR were one of the stand out new bands at Reading and Leeds 2012. Before it can get tiring it is over, in The Ramones sensibility of songwriting. It’s nothing complicated but it just works. It creates an impact that is often overlooked when everything is studio-produced to mediocrity. There’s something straight and genuine about these songs. This isn’t an act. When Zac Carper hollers the lyrics to Whore, you buy it, you feel it.

There are some obvious anthems to be taken from the album, most notably ‘Wake Bake Skate’ which appears custom made to be used over footage in a bowl or pipe. It’s another example of the band talking about what they know and it serves as further proof that it is the best way to write. FIDLAR are a band making the music they grew up listening to, it’s something new in the turgid climate of nonsense pop records, but it’s close enough to their forefathers that it feels almost homely. On LDA there is an almost Joey Ramone stuffiness to the vocal that is like watching a home movie.

If you need something to pick you out of the gutter or for that unforgiving road trip then this album comes highly recommended, it’s a familiar headbutt.

7

Paul Schiernecker