This is not a review of the new Wild Beasts album, Smother.

March 18, 2011

Wild beasts

But I can’t wait to write one. Saying nothing more, now, beyond “it’s very good”.

Smother, the foursome’s follow-up to their Mercury-nominated album Two Dancers, comes out via Domino on 9 May. MySpace.

Wild Beasts – Albatross, from Smother

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The new Strokes album, Angles, is good enough to eat.

March 16, 2011

Strokes Angles

Shame it looks like such a dog’s dinner. Anyway, words I wrote for the BBC below… read the full review here.

“Time isn’t kind to the cool. Disappear for too long, and nobody bats an eyelid when you return, fanfare conspicuous by its utter absence. Arriving over five years since their last LP, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, white-hot-back-when NYC combo The Strokes could have so easily found themselves piled beside the likes of Razorlight and Toploader in the pile of re-emerging artists probably without a place in 2011. But they’ve avoided such a fate by putting together what might actually be their very best record yet.

“Yes, you read that right: Angles isn’t just the equal of the band’s lightning-in-a-bottle debut of 2001, Is This It, it might be better. There are several moments here where the five-piece exhibit an infectious immediacy that’s presented in parallel with some genuine ingenuity, and the effect on the listener is to stop what they’re doing, focus fully on what’s unfolding, and then rewind to hear it over again. Take the strutting punk-funk bass of Two Kinds of Happiness – unremarkable in isolation, but soldered to sprightly percussion and real yearning in Julian Casablancas’ voice, as well as some frenetic six-string fret-work, it’s a vital constituent of a whole that’s fairly flabbergasting. If rendered graphically, one would have to picture early U2 and Talking Heads on a seesaw with The National acting as a fulcrum…”

REVIEW IN FULL

The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness


Forgotten Noughties #4: Isis, Oceanic

March 14, 2011

Oceanic

Isis
Oceanic
Ipecac, 2002

I’ll keep this brief: one, because it’s late, and two, because this isn’t an album that’s forgotten, as such. Though it’s far from held in the regard it could (should) be by the mainstream. Then based in Boston – they’d later relocate for the sunnier climes of California – Isis were admired for their debut long-player of 2000, Celestial, but generally seen as something of an avant-metal makeweight, a band for fans of Tool to consider not quite up to the standard of their favourites. Well, that’s how I saw them, from afar – knew the name, but the music didn’t make much of an impression (at the time). Oceanic changed that. A sprawling, complex work, it took the heaviness of preceding releases and passed a magnifying glass over the nuances previously buried in the mix. Some called it seminal. It has since been called a masterpiece. I saw the band play it in full at London’s Koko in 2006, and it was an experience I won’t ever forget. Yes, at its heart this is a concept record – but it lacks the prog-rock frills that are commonly associated with the tag. Instead, it forgoes fancy showboating for focused repetition, for few things done superbly well rather than a multitude half-baked. Songs draw you in, tumble you around spit you out. Each roar and groan, crack and swell, feels like something colossal – like a tectonic plate grinding against another, or the teeth of some fantastical behemoth – and the vocals, while following something of a narrative arc if read, are executed as if bellowed by a being far beyond this world. At times there’s no clue whatsoever as to the language being spoken, but the effect is mesmirising rather than alienating. Post-metal, some have termed this style, perfected on Oceanic and developed on the following Panopticon of 2004. I don’t know about that. “After metal” just doesn’t fit for me. This feels as if it has grown from a tributary all of its own, an evolutionary freak. As for the post-Oceanic scene: plenty have called on it for influence, and continue to do so to this day.

And yes, this blog is named after one of this album’s songs. My favourite, in fact, if I can allow myself to have one. I wrote rather more on it back in 2006 for DrownedinSound.com – read those words here.

For fans of: Tool, Godflesh, Mogwai
Download: From Sinking, The Other, Hym

Isis – From Sinking (it’s all about when it kicks back in at 6.22)

Isis – Hym


Forgotten Noughties #3: Bluetip, Polymer

March 7, 2011

Polymer

Bluetip
Polymer
Dischord, 2000

Oh look, thinks the newcomer, another scratchy, post-punk-y band releasing through Dischord. I’ve got a Q and not U record already, thanks. Wrong. Washington, DC’s Bluetip might well have the sharp guitars of so much jagged-edge rock circulating at the turn of the millennium, from the stateside underground upwards, but the Jason Farrell-fronted four-piece had something of equal importance, which ultimately makes Polymer the brilliant album that it remains to this day: swing, baby, swing. Wheras other bands were deploying their razor-blade riffing with bubbling funk bass and cowbell percussion, Bluetip’s M.O. was a rather more under-the-radar manner of physical coercion; their slinky guitar lines and snapping drums were tippy-toe-tapping in their skittering classiness. They could be the last band at the last Under the Sea dance at the end of time; you and your best girl, you’ll meet your maker with a broad, beaming smile. Half a world away from the sweaty moshes of so many hardcore shows, this outfit were always brighter, always bolder, than so many contemporaries. A shame, then, that Polymer would be their final album. Farrell would go on to front Retisonic, but they never produced anything as box-tickingly brilliant as this set, which packs in several memorable (and graphic) vocal hooks – “chipped your teeth now your smile looks serrated” (New Shoe Premonition); “Walking around with dimes in my eyes” (Astigmatic) – between music that’s both muscular yet lean, taut yet flexible. It welcomes the listener and allows them to take everything in on their terms, never forcing the issue. In another universe, Bluetip are where the Foo Fighters are, and this is their …Nothing Left to Lose upper-stratosphere breakthrough. The artwork’s cool as, too, Farrell making the most out of jewel case limitations with a cleverly cut design.

For fans of: Rival Schools, Gang of Four, Foo Fighters
Download: New Shoe Premonition, Polymer, Don’t Punch Your Friend (For Being Slow)

Bluetip – Astigmatic

Bluetip – New Shoe Premonition

Forgotten Noughties #1: Ten Grand
Forgotten Noughties #2: The Rise


300 up (reviews, for the BBC, that is)

March 7, 2011

Jessica Lea Mayfield 400

I have now written 301 reviews for the BBC. Which is quite a lot since starting in August 2009. The 300th: the new album by Jessica Lea Mayfield. And it’s thoroughly decent. Read the full review here and listen to a couple of tracks from said album, Tell Me, below.


Three Trapped Tigers – Route One or Die – some words on (for press release purposes)

March 6, 2011

Three Trapped Tigers

I’ve been quite fortunate to pick up a little extra writing work of late, penning press release information for a handful of bands I really like. Already published on these pages are words relating to the new This Will Destroy You album, Tunnel Blanket; and now, since it has a release date confirmed of May 30 via Blood & Biscuits (news on DrownedinSound.com), I thought I’d pop up the following on Three Trapped Tigers’ phenomenal debut album, Route One or Die. Really, it’s Quite The Special.

Three Trapped Tigers
Route One or Die

Tom Rogerson – keyboards, vocals, piano
Matt Calvert – guitar, synths, vocals
Adam Betts – drums, electronics

When told to expect only the unexpected, the average listener will
leap to a conclusion that, actually, what’s about to unfold within
their ears is merely a trite retelling of something heard before. As
such, surprises in contemporary music are at a premium – while
technological innovation expands the musician’s palette, frequently
inspiration is left lagging. This is not true of London’s Three
Trapped Tigers, however. This is a band whose embracing of the
experimental has guided them to a debut album rich in blindsiding
blows built from a set of blueprints entirely theirs alone.

It wasn’t always so – every band needs a firm footing from which to
develop their sound, and Three Trapped Tigers’ original modus operandi
of taking Warp catalogue-style electronica and translating it into a
live, drums-and-guitars-and-keys set-up was theirs. A trio of EPs –
tracks numbered, sequentially, from 1 to 12 – allowed them to
gradually grow in confidence, within the skin they’d assigned for
themselves initially, and later into brave new forms. Jazz, rock,
electro, dance, metal – elements of conventional genres could be heard
in their music’s DNA; but as time passed, it became apparent that
Three Trapped Tigers weren’t about pigeonholes. There was no
check-list of traits to cram into a four-minute composition. So,
freedom took hold and the ultimate result is Route One or Die, a
collection of inspirational instrumentals with no tick-boxes in mind.
The music finds its own way.

And it does so from simple beginnings – the majority of Route One or
Die’s numbers started life as melodies played out on Tom’s piano. Then
these skeletal pieces were introduced to Matt and Adam, who added
their elements. While this might seem like a compartmentalised
process, the intent is always to be able to take the pieces into the
live arena. As such, tracks have a focus and ferocity more commonly
associated with acts whose material comes together in a practise
space. And anyone who has seen the band in the flesh to date can
certainly testify to their remarkable power as a live act. Adam’s
drumming – incessant, covering every square inch of his kit, arms like
pistons – provides each piece’s solid but snaking backbone; around
him, Tom’s keyboards – sci-fi skronk and celestial chimes – and Matt’s
nimble, precise and punchy guitar work paint the kind of pictures that
a thousand words just wouldn’t do justice. That they can generate just
as much energy in the studio – evident throughout Route One or Die –
as they do on stage is the mark of a truly remarkable act.

A remarkable act with incredible ability, a studied edge that sets
them aside from any peers you might want to (probably wrongly) peg
them beside (please, this is unquestionably not post-rock). Best of
all, their exploration of new textures and insatiable ambition to go
further never gets in the way of the desire to rock out ‘til all are a
mess of sweaty grins and clenched fists. And that, perhaps, is what’s
most brilliantly unexpected about Route One or Die: you might well
start the album thinking it’s fare for weirdo-beardo types with
catalogue numbers ingrained on the brain, but you’ll come away moved,
touched by a record with a great human heart at its core. Sure, it
fizzes and crackles, pulses and groans, robotics churning – but
underneath its sharp, steely exterior there’s a rawness and passion
that can’t be denied, let alone defined by categorical customs.

Here’s something old that the band did.


A Mega Drive top five.

March 4, 2011

Games in the 1990s were way cooler than they are today, right? No, obviously not. But memory plays many a trick upon the individual, leading to a session on Stimpy’s Invention because the cartoon was thoroughly decent. Turns out, even nearly 20 years on, the game was a pile of the brown stuff (albeit with a few instances of rib-tickling funnies). Well, it was compared to these beauts which, today, I can still return to and smile my way through however long it takes to beat ’em. Or, in some cases, pull my hair out in the company of ’til my scalp’s exposed for Google Earth to spy.

– – –

Streets of Rage II

Streets of Rage II (1993)

The best scrolling beat ’em up on any platform in the 1990s – and far superior to the threequel of the series – SoRII is a high water mark of the 16-bit era, and plays wonderfully two decades on from its release. Immediate to pick up, its controls feel natural and the special moves, while a lot more simple than those found in Street Fighter II, give the player that little bit extra oomph when needed, again the hordes of look-alike thugs, boxers, girls-with-whips, Blanka-styled monsters, leap-frogging robots and evil machine gun-toting bosses. This is on the Mega Drive Ultimate Collection disc, available for Xbox 360 and the PS3, and is worth the asking price (of about a tenner) alone. It doesn’t take long to finish – but such is its brilliance that replay value is very high indeed. And the music’s amazing throughout. Check out the final stage below – contains spoilers!

– – –

Flashback

Flashback (1992)

The best-selling French-developed game of all time, this, apparently. The unofficial sequel to the rather fantastic Another World of 1991 in terms of look and play, it’s a complex platformer full of fiendish puzzles and against-the-clock dashes, with settings that are (literally) out of this world. It all starts in the forests of Titan, heads to Earth via a Running Man-style game show, and ends with its protagonist foiling an evil alien plot to overthrown the human race by… erm… becoming us. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em I suppose. Come the rather bleak, Alien-referencing closing credits, the morphing baddies have seen their own home world turned into a load of pixels rapidly flying away from each other, and Conrad – CONRAD, WHAT KIND OF A NAME IS THAT FOR A HERO? – goes to sleep for a bit. An indefinite bit. With a little luck, the network will pick him up…

– – –

Sensible Soccer

Sensible Soccer (1992)

I’m allowing myself one kicking simulation. Sensi is brilliant. I’d still rather play this today than most current-generation titles (the brilliance of the Fifa series aside). So what if it was on the Amiga first – it’s a classic on any machine. (I refused to play the Mega Drive version with the awful music on, though.)

– – –

Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim (1994)

Platformers for the Mega Drive didn’t get more weird than this – and despite a raft of infinitely cooler (on paper) characters given their own video games, Earthworm Jim’s playability and sheer out-of-leftfield wackiness ensured it was a cartoon-spawning success. It was essentially a mash-up of the Mega Drive version of Alien 3 (which paled, I will confess, beside the superior SNES release) and excellent Disney flick tie-in Aladdin – but the similarities simply made it that much more instant of appeal. Any game with a final stage villain by the name of Queen Slug-for-a-Butt gets my vote.

– – –

Comix Zone

Comix Zone (1995)

Appearing towards the end of the Mega Drive’s lifetime, perhaps this didn’t get the respect it deserved at the time: for being unique of premise (artist gets sucked into his own comic – it’s hardly shoot-a-load-of-aliens, is it?), visually superb and rock hard. Seriously, I finished this game back around the time of its release, but despite my best attempts today (it, like Streets of Rage II, appears on the Ultimate Collection compilation of games), I just can’t make any headway. But I’m gonna keep trying, so do excuse me…

(Yes, I know, no RPGs. Shining Force 2 and Story of Thor, had ’em both and enjoyed muchly. But I’ve never gone back to them. And the Phantasy Star series is one I’m only just getting into.)