Forgotten Noughties #8: Meet Me in St Louis, Variations on Swing

July 7, 2011

Meet Me in St Louis Variations on Swing

Meet Me in St Louis
Variations on Swing
Big Scary Monsters, 2007

There will be those of you out there who haven’t forgotten this at all – it may even be a favourite to this day. I know that I frequently return to it. But to many Meet Me in St Louis were just a name on a supporting bill, an act that hit its natural ceiling of potential and was never likely to have proceeded further. This album, to these ears, suggests that’s far from the case (and that such observers are/were ignorant dolts). Ostensibly post-hardcore – in so much as its cues can be traced to a handful of turn-of-the-millennium emo bands and the jazz-influenced playfulness of the likes of Spy vs Spy, not to mention the ferocious right-angles riffery of At the Drive-In – it’s an album that dares where so few of its ilk actually did, despite so much hollow boasting. Word was (from the band, at the time) that its producer, Alex Newport, was forced to play catch-up with the band (or simply leave them to it, and nod approvingly), as their chosen timings were too much for the Grammy-nominated fellow to process. And sure enough, at several points this record sounds seconds away from collapse, its players at the very edge of their abilities; cohesion is stretched to near breaking-point, yet somehow the five musicians keep everything under relative control. Ambition is evident from the album’s song titles, most of which refer to films and contain enough twists and turns to fill a dozen Hollywood flicks. There are moments of surprise, touches of tenderness, and everything’s overshadowed by the feeling that this band is giving absolutely fucking everything to the cause. But, like so many bands with the widest horizons before them, relationships within the camp weren’t as perfect as they could be, and vocalist Toby Hayes departed just weeks after this album’s release. The band eventually signed off for good in early 2008. Members have since featured in acts including Colour, Tropics and Shoes and Socks Off.

All We Need Is a Little Energon, and a Lot of Luck

The Torso Has Been Severed In Mid-Thorax

Forgotten Noughties #7: Adam Gnade, Run Hide Retreat Surrender

May 11, 2011

Adam Gnade - Run Hide Retreat Surrender

Adam Gnade
Run Hide Retreat Surrender

Loud + Clear, 2005

Sometimes I can’t write, my fingers frozen by what’s unfolding in my ears, even several spins down the line. That happened here: I struggled to review this record. I did find interviewing its San Diego-born maker easy, though – you can read the piece on Drowned in Sound HERE. Adam’s music – “talking songs”: spoken-word explorations of the heart and all its bruises, set to folk imbued with worn-down soul, wearing spit-shined shoes and drinking from whatever bottle the hand can grasp the quickest and tightest; disaffected, malformed, inspirational – really had no precedent in my head. Of course it did in The Wider World. But let’s not go there when we can sink, instead, into a record that to this day can leave me just a little shaken up. I should be grateful, I suppose. At least I can move now – apt, as Run Hide Retreat Surrender (commas, optional) is a collection inspired by movement, by travel, and all the experiences that one can encounter in the vast unknown of the USA.

Adam Gnade – Dance to the War

Adam Gnade – Shout the Battle Cry for Freedom

Wild Beasts – new album review and interview

May 11, 2011

Wild Beasts

I am a lucky, lucky man to be doing the job I do. Getting paid to write about an amazing record, and talk to one of its makers. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Read my review of Wild Beasts‘ new album, Smother, on the BBC.

Read my interview with frontman Hayden Thorpe on the BBC Music Blog.

So good. Probably my favourite album of the year so far. If it’s not in the Mercury shortlist when it’s announced in July, somebody’s made a mistake.

April has been Seriously Amazing for new albums, eh?

April 21, 2011

Dark Dark Dark Wild Go

And these are some of my favourites.

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (Drag City)
BBC review: “Callahan has gifted us perhaps his most subversive set to date: an album less about apocalypse and ruin than it is upheaval of the positive variety, and one of the most contented and rewarding of his career.” (James Skinner)

Cold Cave – Cherish the Light Years (Matador)
BBC Review: “From the crashing, urgently dramatic announcing bars of The Great Pan Is Dead, sheens of gothic 1980s veneer actually conceal something much deeper, more uncomfortable. A nocturnal shot of adrenaline to the heart of a paranoid urban dweller, Eisold’s coal-black, almost deadpan delivery booms over synths at times misleadingly bright and airy.” (Adam Kennedy)

Colourmusic – My _____ Is Pink (Memphis Industries)
BBC Review: “When they lock their grooves down, let the drums fly and the guitars spark, there are few bands out there to touch Colourmusic’s engrossing racket.” (Me)

J-Rocc – Some Cold Rock Stuf (Stones Throw)
BBC Review: “A long time coming it may have been, but Some Cold Rock Stuf is a disc worth spending plenty of time with after waiting more than a while for. He’s his label’s pick for the ‘world’s greatest hip hop DJ’, and after hearing this many more will side with the opinion.” (Me)

Katy B – On a Mission (Rinse)
BBC Review: “Katy B is a new breed of singer, adding a vibrant gloss to a new combination of sounds with a charm and personality all of her own. She’s shining bright and crying out to be taken on as Britain’s new favourite pop star – and if this album is anything to go by, it looks like the stage is set.” (Natalie Shaw)

Cat’s Eyes – Cat’s Eyes (Polydor)
BBC Review: “As an album, Cat’s Eyes is simply remarkable. Sounding like all the spectral and slightly ‘woooh’ music of yore, its makers throw in additional elements of Nick Cave gothery, Julee Cruise, early 4AD spook, Italian horror soundtracks and the more otherworldly elements of prime 1960s pop such as Scott Walker and Bobbie Gentry. The result is a hazy, somnambulant treat.” (Ian Wade)

Instra:mental – Resolution 653 (Nonplus Records)
BBC Review: “In musical terms, Green and Kirkham have described themselves as ‘growing up through the rave generation’, and many aspects of Resolution 653 confirm that. But the debt this inventive hour of music owes the past is far outweighed by its claim on the present.” (Chris Power)

letlive. – Fake History (Epitaph)
BBC Review: “Rather than an acting as an indictment of modern society and all its ills, Fake History simply asks the listener to take stock of the world around them and to form their own opinions about it. Far from didactic or preachy, it’s a lesson in the pure power of music. Pay no attention to the words that Jason Butler sings and you’ll still feel these songs course through your blood. Listen to them, and your mind – as well as your eyes and your heart – will be held wide open.” (Mischa Pearlman)

Metronomy – The English Riviera (Because)
BBC Review: “If Nights Out was the soundtrack to an all-hours party that threatened to blow the speakers, The English Riviera is the music in the ears of a restless insomniac. The type of punch Metronomy now pack is differently varied, and instead of relying on catchy melodies, its excitement and originality is now more broadly sourced.” (Natalie Shaw)

Panda Bear – Tomboy (Paw Tracks)
BBC Review: “While much here can be summarised as more of the same, when Lennox’s natural quality control operates at such an admirable standard, that’s precisely why Tomboy is such a chilled-out triumph.” (Me)

tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L (4AD)
BBC Review: “This second tUnE-yArDs album advances the concept of rampant collision, hiking the extremities up to a further level. Lo-fi meets hi-fi, as big drum thunder under-booms sometime dictaphone-style scratchiness in the vocal department. There’s a pronounced field-recording intention, recalling Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica period, as well as the ethnic vocal capturings of New York composer Meredith Monk.” (Martin Longley)

Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting (Polydor)
BBC Review: “Stood next to Blake and The xx, Mirrorwriting sounds like Katy Perry covering Walking on Sunshine: which is to say that he’s both much more accessible and a lot less gloomy than his contemporaries, even if his music is equally enigmatic and enchanting. There is still plenty of electronic smoke-and-mirrors activity on tracks like Gravity, but despite ultra-modern tricks he’s less sonic explorer than classic songwriter.” (Paul Clarke)

Dark Dark Dark – Wild Go (Melodic)
BBC Review: “Frequently capable of rendering the listener struck dumb by its beguiling beauty, and played by musicians in perfect harmony with each other, Wild Go is easily among the frontrunners for album of the year (so far). It will find a place in the collections of those seduced by the indie-folk of Laura Marling just as easily as it will become a stereo mainstay in homes favouring the arrangements of Arcade Fire. But while its appeal is broad, there’s no doubting that Dark Dark Dark are an exquisite outfit exploring a soundworld that’s entirely theirs.” (Me)

Dutch Uncles – Cadenza (Memphis Industries)
BBC Review: “In 2009, a little band from Manchester released an eponymous debut on a little German label, leaving only a little impression on their domestic scene. But from an acorn the mightiest of oaks can grow, and sure enough the years between that set and this follow-up have seen Dutch Uncles come to the attentions of influential sorts in the music industry. Now picked up by label-of-fine-repute Memphis Industries, and with support from several acts enjoying moderate-to-decent success, they’re poised to take a belated step into mainstream hearts.” (Me)

So check ’em out, yeah?

Dutch Uncles’ new album, Cadenza, is frightfully good.

April 15, 2011

Dutch Uncles

Read words on it, and listen to clips from it, by clicking these words.

The album is out on April 25, via the impressive-vein-of-form-enjoying Memphis Industries (Colourmusic’s album My _____ Is Pink, which they released on April 4, is also worth checking out).

Loving This Right Now.

April 12, 2011

thumbs up

What’s dominating the 160GB slab that rocks about in my pocket, right now…

Wild Beasts, Smother (Domino, released 9 May)
I’m not sure I’ve loved an album more than this in 2011 so far. It’s a special record, Smother; one that gets into the blood so instantly one wonders if its effects will be only short-lived. Not so. I’m not much of a betting man, but if I was I’d have a tenner on this for the Mercury. And how beautiful is the video to Albatross? Very.

Wild Beasts – Albatross

Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact (4AD, released 9 May)
I’m still getting to grips with this new LP from NYC’s best whatever-they-want-to-be ‘indie-dance’ (loosest-possible-sense application) combo. Beats that spark fire from sticks on skins; synths that shimmer like a desert mirage; vocals like Kate Bush wired to the International Space Station. Incredible fare – and the rush doesn’t seem to be subsiding anytime soon.

Gang Gang Dance – MindKilla

Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (EMI, released 2 May)
There’s no way this should be as good as it is. Three 40-something dudes essentially doing what they did back in the mid-80s. But with superlative production and a real sense in the vocals that the Beasties are hungrier than ever to be heard – especially after MCA’s health problems – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is a scintillating listen. Every bone in my body is shaking with gratitude that it’s turned out as well as it has.

Beastie Boys feat. NaS – Too Many Rappers

Three Trapped Tigers – Route One or Die (Blood and Biscuits, released 30 May)
I’ve already said plenty on this particular slice of sonic brilliance – click here to read as much.

Three Trapped Tigers – Cramm

True Widow – As High As the Highest Heavens… (Kemado, released 2 May)
This second album from the Texan post-metallers (?) has a ridiculously long title. But it’s the music on it that’s leaving me breathless at the moment. Like Autolux meeting Queens of the Stone Age for a secret liaison in some underground club that only those with the right tattoos gain entry to. Not me, then. Check out Skull Eyes below.

True Widow – Skull Eyes

Forgotten Noughties #6: Bear vs. Shark, Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands…

April 8, 2011

Bear vs Shark Right Now

Bear vs. Shark
Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands…
Equal Vision, 2003

Or, to give the album its full title: Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands. And If Something Isn’t Quite Right, Your Doctor Will Know in a Hurry. Quite the mouthful, and probably a name that the band – formed in 2001, disbanded four years later – soon became sick of explaining. Wikipedia says: “The name of the album is derived from a sign that singer Marc Paffi saw and thought was interesting.” He couldn’t have been intrigued by a sign saying “keep left”, or “mind the gap”? But I digress: this, the Michigan band’s debut (a similarly strong second LP, Terrorhawk, followed in 2005), is one of the finest post-hardcore albums of its time – of any time, frankly. It’s got swing, it’s got style; it’s got brilliant breakdowns and lyrics that bend into all sorts of weird shapes. Much of it seems baffling. But that really doesn’t matter, so instantly is the listener swept up by the force of the players, by their precise musicianship that’s several steps away from those bludgeoning their way through hardcore tropes. It crams more originality into its 40-minute run-time than most supposedly clever-clogs rockers manage across an entire catalogue. Really, if you’ve ever been moved by guitar music that is both highly energetic and hugely individual, pick this up. Big Scary Monsters recently reissued it on limited-edition red vinyl – go get.

For fans of: Small Brown Bike, Joan of Arc, June of 44
Download: Buses/No Buses, Campfire, Don’t Tell the Horses the Stable’s On Fire, We Were Sad But Now We’re Rebuilding

Bear vs. Shark – Don’t Tell the Horses the Stable’s On Fire

Bear vs. Shark – Campfire

Massive Attack’s Blue Lines turns 20 this month.

April 7, 2011

Massive Attack, Blue Lines

Released on April 8 1991, Blue Lines presented a brand-new pop template, one which numerous others have studied, but all have fallen short of meeting the same magic found here. If we’re talking influential albums of the year, this is my foremost pick – and with Screamadelica and Nevermind among the competition, that’s no little praise. Arguably, the Bristolians have never bettered their debut – although there are moments of 1998’s Mezzanine where they stretch into equally brilliant highs, albeit far darker ones.

My BBC review of Blue Lines can be found here.

Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy

Massive Attack – Safe From Harm

Massive Attack – Daydreaming

Forgotten Noughties #5: Devastations, Yes U

April 4, 2011

Devastations Yes U

Yes, U
Beggars Banquet, 2007

Though well received at the time of its release, Yes, U – the third album from this trio of Australian ex-pats, recorded in Berlin – didn’t kick the group’s profile up enough notches for them to be as recognised as they perhaps should be. To these ears, anyone repeatedly buying into the enveloping gloom of Nick Cave (an obvious but valid parallel) or the literate melancholic indie of Tindersticks needs this band in their life. It’s a sumptuous offering, equal parts sinister shadows and in-your-face fury – and its brilliance comes through the listener never quite knowing what is coming next. So Black Ice is a slow slide towards inevitable trouble, drum machine beats popping beneath solid percussion from fine sticksman Hugo Cran; but Rosa throws such cautiousness to the howling wind, turning amplifiers up until the knobs fall off and allowing frontman Conrad Standish to howl at a killing moon. Of equal presence is co-vocalist Tom Carlyon who, while less direct than his bandmate, offers a finely understated foil and is equally capable of getting under the skin of the listener, his whisper as powerful a tool as any wailing guitar riff. A great trio, with great songs – this is their best set, though 2006’s Coal isn’t without its moments of mischievous magic – quite how Devastations aren’t the regularly referenced, critically lauded outfit they should be can only be put down to the fact that a successor to Yes, U is yet to emerge. (A rather sad-looking, neglected MySpace page lists no new dates.) Album four, soon, please gents?

For fans of: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Black Heart Procession, The National
Download: The Pest, Rosa, An Avalanche of Stars, The Saddest Sound

Devastations – Rosa (live)

Devastations – The Saddest Sound

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…”


The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness