Review: single-paragraph appraisals

August 29, 2008

Because sometimes it is nice to review things. Should anyone care for this opinion.

Constantines, Kensington Heights (Arts & Crafts, 22/09/08)
Canada’s Constantines’ fourth LP follows precedents set by their previous form – namely this is tears- and beers-stained rock and roll in a vaguely similar vein to The Hold Steady, but while Craig Finn and his cohorts play the blue-collar chords, here songs are streamlined for a more discerning listener. ‘Million Star Hotel’ cranks up the tension, Bryan Webb’s Springsteen-recalling vocals impassioned and pure of soul; ‘I Will Not Sing A Hateful Song’ is the eventual release, a kind of tenderness replacing the quintet’s twitchy rhythms as calmness cools their punk-infused cacophony. The band’s arrival on Arts & Crafts feels like something of a homecoming following a period on Sub Pop’s books, and the album title echoes this – Kensington Heights is the Toronto street on which you’ll find their rehearsal space.

Adventure, Adventure (Carpark, 15/09/08)
8-bit party glitch from North Carolina-raised Benny Boeldt, presently residing in Baltimore as he looks to make a name for himself this side of the Atlantic as Adventure. This self-titled album presses many of the same buttons as fellow townsman (and Wham City cohort) Dan Deacon’s Spiderman Of The Rings, but ultimately doesn’t possess the furiously powerful NRG of said potential peer. Occasional vocal samples are latched to Sonic-style beats and, while hardly original, the overall product’s a pleasantly distracting muddle of refined synths and coin-op arcade game FX. If your idea of tomorrow’s music today is Crystal Castles or, perhaps more preferably, Daedelus’ rave-chic retrogressions, this’ll fit into your collection sweetly enough. If the sight of neon clothing makes you barf, best steer your attentions well clear of this candy-coloured patchwork of ringtone-level hedonism.

Also on the stereo: Hey Colossus’ Happy Birthday. Sounds like a choir of feedback harpies being stepped on by fire-breathing dinosaurs with blame-the-Melvins tinnitus ringing in their why are you not extinct earholes. Brutes.


In praise of: Keith Fullerton Whitman’s ‘Stereo Music For Yamaha Disklavier Prototype, Electric Guitar and Computer’

August 28, 2008

Keith Fullerton Whitman

Call me a nerd – I’ll freely take it on what chin I have – but there’s something magic about music that does so much with so little. Just the other day, over two cups of fine tea in a Stoke Newington cafe, I talked with Bill Drummond (KLF, etc) about hearing movement in music that might not be there. It was in relation to the sound made by his the17 choirs, but tonight I’ve found the perfect piece of music to apply the idea to.

‘Stereo Music…’ is from Keith Fullerton Whitman‘s Multiples album, released via Kranky in 2005 and recorded at Harvard. Yes, the university. It runs for ten minutes and is, at its core, a single loop, soaked in various layers of echo and hum, hiss and blissful choral drone. It doesn’t really do anything; it just is for ten full minutes. It doesn’t even really get going until four minutes in, when a faint ripple of what could be a processed voice (but isn’t) rises gently in the mix. It’s so very serene that, truly, words do it no justice. The ‘song’ is the most perfectly delicate piece of instrumental music I own, maybe – pristine in its arrangement and execution, meticulously detailed despite so few constituent parts.

And here’s where this notion of hearing shifts in the drone comes into play: the background sweeps vary to tiny degrees, second to second; progressively louder, slight alterations in pitch. But the (what could be a) piano loop remains the same. It does, I’m sure. Yet here I am, tapping different patterns to it upon my chest, wondering how two minutes ago it was an entirely different structure to what now washes against my ears. As the underlying undulations in the sheet of backdrop sound drift into the ether for good, this ‘piano’ plays out ’til it too is spent, never faltering in its repetition and reliability. It’s like Kraut-classical piano-prog, or something. Nah, that’s rubbish. It’s just perfect. And full of self-manifested nuances that only I know.

Keith Fullerton Whitman also records more ‘straightforward’ dance music under various monikers, but for me his given-name ambient works shine bright as near-peerless exercises in modern composition. Some may call it ‘soundtrack’ music, but if certain pictures can paint a thousand words, then pieces like ‘Stereo Music…‘ can sing a thousand paintings. (That said, some of Franc Tetaz’s work, such as the score to Australian horror film Wolf Creek, is close to Whitman’s in its eschewing of conventional ‘classicisms’.)

Today I also listened to new records by Nadja and Growing. Both were fantastic and tied in neatly to my Whitman enjoyment. The new Nadja (click name for MySpace) record is called Skin Turns To Glass, and it’s probably the most tonally beautiful thing of utmost brutality I’ve heard since the self-titled Pyramids album released via Hydrahead a few months back (review here). It’ll appeal to fans of Jesu’s less-vocal dirges. Growing‘s (click name for MySpace) All The Way is typically idiosyncratic, but powerfully addictive of beat – it will set your toe tapping. Two new-release recommendations from two inspiring duos, right there.

Sort of the only editorial column I’ll ever sort of write…

August 28, 2008


Punk’s not dead (it just moved to Birmingham)

August 28, 2008

Beestung Lips

I’m thrilled, seriously, to see this morning (perhaps a little later than I should’ve) that Birmingham’s Beestung Lips have time set aside to record a follow-up release to their blistering debut EP Songs To And From An Iron Gut. The four-piece will be entering a studio on September 3 according to their MySpace page.

Since the release of said EP last year, via local label (and organisers of the excellent Supersonic Festival) Capsule, I’ve barely breathed a word about the band that hasn’t been dripping in extreme positivity. Even after an indifferently received DiScover Club show in March, where their regular vocalist was replaced by a temporary substitute (and alcohol took hold), my love for this fiery foursome dwindled none.

It’s in their eyes, you see, and you can see their eyes in their songs – bulging red, blood-shot, desperate; Watership Down terror. You feel they could kill for their art if such an action was necessary. They’re the full stop at the end of every sentence proclaiming band XYZ as ‘the next Gallows’, the natural conclusion to a cycle that’s seen punk rock co-opted by sports, literature, car design, questionable club nights, et cetera. Punk’s not movement, it’s a moment, and Beestung Lips should be the shadow cast furthest by the explosion back when – nothing needs happen after they inevitably burn out after another one or two searing releases.

‘Inevitably’ because there’s self-destruction in their veins, and some days a visual reluctance to acknowledge how fucking amazing they can be; nonchalance exuded where cockiness and a degree of self-aggrandizing attitude would be absolutely acceptable. That, and their vocalist is the cracked chain link, the seed of doubt – it’s nothing to do with his performances, but because he (he being one ‘Wayfarer Pearton’ according to MySpace) is a man with ills evident. Thusly he departed the stage early at Supersonic last month – I wonder if this post on MySpace is a reference to the day:

I did walk off stage. Off stage, through walls, through hell to embrace the only feelings that are truly personal: joy and grief. There will be a new record, commited to posterity in September. I will be contributing. It will be the rock of all ages, it will have the balls to be pagan, it will be the big yell fuck of the year.”

That: commitment to a cause, however limited the cause’s widescreen ambitions. If he leaves and Beestung Lips fill the gap for good then they may succeed to a level where ten-date support tours become a reality, if they want it; if in his absence there’s only a void that sucks the remaining three into it, then so be it: Songs To And From An Iron Gut is a record I return to time and again, and it’ll always be a classic debut in my ears. Vitriolic, melodic, acerbic, challenging, accessible, surreal, suffocating, intoxicating – it’s a paradox set to compact disc, from a band that should be bigger than the sun but, failing that, scorch with an equal heat.

The fruits of September’s sessions can’t come quickly enough.

Rewind: Unwound

August 27, 2008


Following my repeat-play rotation of Lovvers’ Think, today I was lucky enough to get my hands on a few Unwound albums. I’ve been dropping by their ‘tribute’ MySpace page fairly frequently of late, so it’s great to have some CDs to further my renewed interest.

The connection between Lovvers and Unwound is very, very tenuous – both bands are punk by basic design but miles apart in how they lay their music down – but in the latter you hear a timeless rawness distilled further and wilder in the former. Certainly there are plenty of ‘punk’ bands today whose ideas of what makes for intensity, of that dynamic of hold and release, could be broadened considerably by hearing Unwound.

Actually, fuck it. There’s no real connection whatsoever. I just wanted some sort of bridge between posts.

For those at the back: Unwound were DC hardcore sorts who should/could have mattered immensely in the mid-’90s (formed in ’91 and broke up ten years later), but they never quite made the waves of the similarly-pitched Fugazi (who do pre-date them, to be fair); they favoured all-ages shows, toured hard, and really helped Kill Rock Stars make a name for itself in the ’90s alongside Sleater-Kinney. They’re well worth your immediate investigation, as some of their material really hasn’t dated any. Follow that MySpace link in the above paragraph for a taster. They can (could) be as brutal as Young Windows and as tight as Burning Airlines, sometimes in the same song. Some phenomenal stuff in the catalogue, which is pretty expansive (I’ve only enough material to scratch the surface at present).

I’m off now to play their last-ever album, Leaves Turn Inside You (from which the below song is taken). I’ve never heard it before. Exciting times.

Video: Unwound, ‘Scarlette

If only more bands made me feel like Lovvers do…

August 26, 2008

Which is a peculiar electric, a tingle that runs the length of a body always caught mid-convulsion, an arm flailed or a leg at right angles to its hip. Y’seen them live? Oh, do so: head to MySpace for a sample song and datesss.

The band’s debut ‘album’ (if you can call it an album, clocking in as it does at around 13 minutes) is called Think and I’ve almost worn my copy out; thankfully merciful PR company sent me two, result. I think it’s out in September, but it might be October. Wichita do the business.

Those who know me will feel that posts so far play like some sort of broken record. Sorry, but I absolutely love these wide-eyed kids without weight yet on their shoulders, the trials of an industry perpetually eating itself yet to bear down with impressive force. In their innocence is a strange hope for people like me (oh, boo hoo at me) who’ve wallowed long enough in the pits of heavily-playlisted mediocrity.

Here’s to two steps back, one smile forward.

Rolo Tomassi’s Hysterics LP is one of the finest debuts of the year

August 25, 2008

At some point I will attempt to pen words on the topic, the topic being the Sheffield fivesome’s forthcoming album, but for now: words from one-fifth of its creative force on DrownedinSound:

Rolo Tomassi: hysterical youth, bloodthirsty babes

And a reminder to anyone wanting to have a few jars this Saturday, in the company of some fine (free) music courtesy of Brontide, Secondsmile and Envy & Other Sins: the August edition of the DiScover Club takes place on August 30 at the Notting Hill Arts Club; entry is free (4pm-8pm) and the door operates an over-18s only policy. There’s a Facebook event you can join here:

Facebook event – DiScover Club, August 2008

My final few features for DiS, for the time being anyway, will run this week: interviews with Foals and Bill Drummond. Do keep an eye out, won’t you.