The Ballet come close to being the perfect band with the perfect album. A host of interesting influences and sounds come together in I Blame Society to create beautiful tunes.
Seriously, someone could have read the phone directory over the top of these tunes and still scored highly. It’s just sad that they didn’t.
I truly love the opening bars of the album on the track Alright. I also love the chilled out Meaningless and poppier Too Much Time – tracks with 80s throwback keyboard settings and tropes. Meanwhile, Cruel Path evokes Joy Division and Sonic Youth and All The Way is a bit Mary Chain-ish.
At times the tunes are hauntingly sad. At others laid back, and yet others they sound like The Cure with extra electronic wiffles (such as on Is There Anybody Out There?). Feelings moves into more upbeat territory, and that’s fine. It leavens the laid back mournfulness.
Obviously this album has ‘credible indie music for Peugeot ad’ written all over it. In part this is because at times the talented flaunting of musical influences begins to sound like plagiarism or even pisstake. For example, anyone who has listened to The Moog Cookbook will be at home with the tune to Sorry.
And what’s more, there’s an elephant in the recording studio. It’s the old auto-tune elephant once again. Only it’s no longer an elephant, it’s a virus. An epidemic. Your ears are at risk on pretty much EVERY SINGLE TRACK. The subtly leaden out-of-kilter voice setting leads me to suspect the lead singer’s voice simply isn’t up to it. Surely they didn’t deliberately have created an entire album of songs spoilt by a vocoder set to a soullessly atonal Stephen Malkmus?
It’s sad that by the end of a musically, lyrically excellent album that there has been no let-up from Mr Voice Modulation. As the last track All The Way faded it left me so incredibly tired and frustrated. Please, somebody tell me if there’s a way to scrape vocals off an MP3 file. It would make me so happy.
With I Blame Society, The Ballet skirt with perfection. But they have made very large musical error. They only have themselves to blame.
Two years ago we were sent an EP, called Falling Over Our Fear by Leeds band Just Handshakes (We’re British), and were mightily impressed with their unique brand of indiepop. Like many of their peers they are clearly regular listeners to C86 era bands, but in vocalist Clara Patrick they had something very different. Her beautiful Yorkshire lilt was more traditional folk than fey indie pop and as a result brought this EP’s tracks alive.
Fast forward two years and at last their debut album Say It has arrived, they’ve dropped the “(We’re British)”, signed to California’s Bleeding Gold Records and are proving that Patrick is not the only star of the band.
While on Say It there are echoes of their C86 roots its production slips further back in time. With its whirly-gig keyboards, chorus pedals and Patrick’s vocals it sounds like Young Marble Giants in places – but somehow with XTC’s Dave Gregory on guitar.
Their guitarist Michael Denham may not be familiar with Gregory’s style, he may well preach daily at this underated legend’s church but by hook or by crook Denham certainly sounds like him as his guitar moves across the melody, twanging this way and that. To call his work merely jangly guitar pop really does Denham a disservice; he’s much more than that, specially on opening track London Bound, which has echoes of XTC’s Towers of London in both title and guitar playing.
The title track also has a great riff but the guitar takes more of a back seat to allow Patrick’s vocals to shine. November is another highlight with its sparse verse and epic chorus. It’s the kind of track that The Joy Formidable are building up their fine festival reputation with.
They’ve also achieved something that is rare for a debut release; to already have found your voice and sound rather than spend 12 or so tracks searching for it. This assurance of their ability and direction has enabled them to deliver a highly consistent debut, full of hooky choruses and nods to the best of English new wave and independent music without merely copying. They even have the balls to end the album on a wistful Young Marble Giants-eque two minute track Balmoral, with just Patrick’s vocals and keyboards for comfort.
Patrick’s vocal style will be divisive; too folky for a traditional indie band some may say. But that’s the point of Just Handshakes; they are so much more than a traditional indie band as this excellent debut shows.
Back in the 1980s it was tough to find a better live act than The Woodentops. Have a listen to the album Live Hypno Beat, from 1987 and recorded in Los Angeles a year earlier, with its energy, infectious pop and frantic drumming. It was indie music you could dance to; something almost every band from James, That Petrol Emotion to The Soup Dragons and Primal Scream were having a go at with mixed results as the decade came to a close. But while The Woodentops should have been at the vanguard of this indie dance cross over they gradually faded away in a familiar tale of unfulfilled potential.
Did they peak too soon? Arguably listening back to the difference in quality between their early singles and Live Hypno Beat tracks with their weaker later releases this is a plausible argument. Quite simply by the time Inspiral Carpets and James were headlining Reading Festival in the early 1990s The Woodentops best tracks were behind them and they were focusing more and more on whether someone could dance to their music rather than the quality of the songwriting.
First up this collection, with the strapline ‘remasters, remixes and rarities 1982 -1992′, is big, arguably a little too big, with its 52 tracks surely too much for any band in one go. But given that it is retailing for the price of standard double album there’s no hint of being ripped off.
If there’s a genuine gripe though it’s the lack of live tracks on the album, especially those from Live Hypno Beat. It could be there were licensing issues, but with just two live tracks on the album, neither from Live Hypno Beat, it limits this collection’s ability to properly showcase the breadth of their talent.
What the collection does include though are the key tracks from their two albums 1986’s excellent Giant and 1988’s less interesting Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway, their singles and a bucket load of remixes by the likes of Adrian Sherwood.
Of these it is Giant tracks and their early singles on CD 1 and CD 3 that really stand out and survive the decades that have passed since their initial releases on Rough Trade in the 1980s. The folky Good Thing, wistful Give It Time and the rockabilly Love Train are all as superb now as they were then. They also show that in singer Roly McGinty they had one of the great lead vocalists of the early 1980s indie music scene.
The rarities and other recorded version of Live Hypno Beat such as Move Me and the frantic Well,Well, Well are particular highpoints showing the band at their artistic peak. CD3 also features a welcome Glastonbury 1987 recording of Get It On, offering a hint of the sort of live tracks that should have featured on this collection.
However, CD2 is the saddest of the collection, as it focuses on The Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway tracks. I remember the disappointment of hearing this far more polished album at the time. The songs just weren’t as strong and the drum machine focus on production made it seemingly lacking in passion compared to Giant. Tracks such as Maybe It Won’t Last, They Can Say What They Want and Wheels Turning feel as empty now as they did then when compared to the live and Giant era The Woodentops.
The rest of the CD is littered with a variety of remixes that feel very dated. Adrian Sherwood’s version of Why Why Why just seems so tame by top quality dance music standards and the band’s live delivery of the track (see clip). The Baleric remix of the same track, on CD3, also does little for this song as the sands of time pass through the fingers of the ever aging club goers from 1991.
By the time they ceased altogether in the early 1990s they’d lost sight of what made them great. Tracks from their final release, the horribly dated 1992’s Woodentops v Bang the Party’s – Tainted World, show just how far they’d slipped from potential stadium headliners to sanguine dance act.
Reading back on this review it sounds like I’m being a little harsh on The Woodentops. That would be wrong I assure you. As a live act and for a chunk of the 1980s they were a superb band, but with their move further into dance culture they drifted further from their original identity and arguably lost their passion and fans along the way. Since 2006 they have reformed and played a series of live shows, which shows there is still unfinished business for McGinty and the band.
If you like tracks such as Love Train and Love Affair with Everyday Living then I urge you to invest in Live Hypno Beat, still their best ever release and a far better collection of one of the UK’s best acts from the 1980s.
The Android Angel is Paul Coltofeanu, probably best known to our readers as the man behind panda-bear themed rockers Free Swim. However, in reality it is Free Swim who are the side project, Lie Back and Think of England is actually the third album to be released under The Android Angel moniker.
If you are used to his Free Swim work then the able might come as a bit of a shock. The brilliant EPs that he released under that banner tend to be a full-on blast of off-kilter guitar pop, so hearing the atmospheric 23 seconds of opening track ‘Homes’ followed by the gentle acoustic guitars and hushed vocals of ‘Solutions’ is evidence that you are in a different part of Paul Coltofeanu’s musical brain.
To some degree this album can be seen as a logical next step from the forth Free Swim EP, She Dreams In Lights, which already hinted at influences like The Flaming Lips, Super Furry Animals and Sparklehorse in the sound that he was producing. This is a pretty record, full of subtle playing and sweet melodies; beautifully self-produced in in Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, Germany and the UK.
The title track is just lovely, with Sarah Mahony adding some excellent vocals to a duet that is lyrically rather downbeat. Some of the references in the song may date it a little, but they also give the song a place in time that suits the mood.
‘Distant Star’ is even better, a fully formed slice of fuzzy pop that deserves a place on any radio station playlist (and has already featured on Tom Robinson’s 6 Music Show). This is followed by ‘Ability Park’ which is a kind of jazz-folk instrumental that showcases Paul Coltofeanu’s musical skill and mastery of melody pretty perfectly.
One of the things that takes a little time to get used to on listening to this record is adjusting to the less jokey nature of the songs. I’m so used to hearing him sing about growing extra hands or eating a vienetta that a delicate folk song like ‘Foreign Son’ seems at odds with my expectations. This only takes a couple of listens to adjust to though, and it isn’t going to trouble anyone new to The Android Angel who isn’t already a Free Swim devotee.
The only slight criticism I have of Lie Back and Think of England is that the last few tracks seem to break the cohesive nature of the album. ‘Chicago John’ is a fantastic song, I love the instrumentation on the track and it is a lot of fun. It doesn’t seem to quite fit with what has come before though, and sounds much more like a Free Swim track, but it is quite brilliant on its own. Finishing the album with two instrumentals is also little out of kilter with the general flow of the album, although ‘Follow The River’ nicely wraps things back to the opening track.
All told this is about as interesting an album as I expect I’ll hear all year, brilliantly played and written and (despite the influences) like nothing else on record. He’s proved the master of the concept EP with Free Swim and as The Android Angel he has taken it one step further with an extremely impressive album.
Some things never change. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the world gets warmer and human rights continue to get abused.
Former Dead Kennedy’s frontman Jello Biafra has been singing and protesting against social, environmental and economic injustices for five decades now and probably will for another five. His mission is as futile as it is magnificent. Even when all is lost and the Werewolves of Wall Street, as he calls them on his latest album White People and the Damage Done, are sitting in their palatial bunker beneath a nuclear ravaged world Biafra will be up top in the ruins, singed, dying and singing his heart out.
This is the second album from his band The Guantanamo School of Medicine and continues his punk take on the Mothers of Invention that has served him well all these years.
Musically this is about as close to a new Dead Kennedy’s album as you can get, with echoes of that great San Francisco punk band’s surf punk on tracks such as Hollywood Goof Disease.
Lyrically it’s as you were, with the same old injustices getting aired. Old foes like Reagan may have been replaced but there’s still Sarah Palin and the tea party nutters to anger Biafra. The aforementioned Werewolves probably get the most venom, as they continue to feast on the austerity caused from their economic debacle of 2008.
So too does a tabloid media, which he argues on tracks such as Hollywood Goof Disease and John Dillnger is more concerned with petty crooks and celebrities than the real stories of lives being trodden into the dirt by the fat cats.
Even with the serious issues at stake Biafra never fails to treat them with his own sense of dark humour and melodically this is the best he has been since his Dead Kennedy’s days. The title track about US foreign policy is particularly effective at marrying the political with the melodic side to Biafra’s music.
It’s good to hear him again after a break for this old Dead Kennedys fan. Never has the world needed Biafra’s wise words more. Those like me will continue to listen, those like Palin will continue to ignore or deride old punks like Biafra. He carries on, the wheels turn but at least we can bask in the glow of a great new album from the grand old dame of protest singing.
‘It was a long cold winter, didn’t think I would pull through’. I had to laugh. Listening and freezing on a bus in south London this past April, there were times I wasn’t sure if I’d pull through either.
Fortunately, ‘Suddenly’, the second track on Junip’s new self-titled album, is much warmer than its first line suggests. As is the whole album – it’s a warm, gentle hug of an album that doesn’t challenge or provoke, but let’s the lazy listener comfortably snooze through.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Jose Gonzalez’s solo work. I’d always found it pretty, but it left me a bit cold. The success of Heartbeats put him on my (and the international) radar – but that’s really as far as I had got with him. I think I bought a television off the back of it.
In Junip, he’s got Elias Araya and Tobias Winterkorn with him and the result still retains his dedicatedly acoustic sound, but with delicate electronica thrown in and a little subtle reverb. It is a more interesting listen than Gonzalez on his own.
According to the band’s website, Gonzalez says the reason for self-titling was because “all the ups and downs [in making it] were very ‘Junip’”. Fair enough. But it doesn’t sound like an album of a band’s struggle or pain. It’s light and uplifting. It’s nice. But it’s almost too nice, and for me, fears being relegated to the realm of adult easy listening.
Lyrically it’s quite simple, but then there is that lovely, wavering thing that Gonzalez does with his voice that redeems some of the blandness of the words he’s actually singing. His classical guitar style is evident and I’m sure it is technically brilliant to those who know.
First single ‘Line of fire’ is the song that lingers after listening. It’s catchy and builds nicely with a swell of genuine emotion. The weak point for me is ‘Baton’ – I’m not cool with whistling in songs when the person doing it is mid-30s and from Sweden, rather than a cowboy from the American mid-west. And then there are the bongo drums…
The aforementioned ‘Suddenly’ is a quiet love song and is probably my favourite track. ‘Walking lightly’ reminds me a bit of Paul Simon but comes over slightly sandal-and-socks wearing, (and again with the bongos), and ‘Villain’ starts off like a Black Keys b-side and sounds a little at odds with the rest of the album.
It’s all steadfastly middle ground enough and some of it does still sound like an overly emotive commercial (but in 2013, for a tablet, rather than a television). Overall, it’s a sincere, uplifting, easy listen – just a few too many bongos for me.
America 2 is a compilation from Parisian fashion and music label Kitsune showcasing what it believes to be the hottest rising talent from America.
Cutting edge production ties together the whole album. The opener Loft So High from LA-based Ghost bathes in a deep and dreamy sound. It’s thanks to the sensational, other-worldly production that I equate this track with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.
On track two it’s the modern, minimalist hip-hop of New York’s TiDUS whose Say It bubbles away menacingly beneath breathy, quivering beats.
The stand-out track of the collection and perhaps the whole year, is Say That by Toro Y Moi. It instantly captures you with an intimate lyrical declaration over a dubby pop soundscape.
It’s cushioned either side by Theophilus London and Chrome Sparks, who continue to serve up the smoothest of production. In the case of Chrome Sparks it’s a spinning, slo-mo instrumental dedicated to marijuana. Theophilus London meanwhile offers a luscious, soulful sound and an ode to Morning Kisses.
So far, this poolside pop could be the soundtrack to the most perfect summer vacation. And by this stage the sun appears to be setting in time for Kent Odessa Bo’s 1980s grooves and Alison Valentine’s Hawaiian beats and harmonic calls.
By the time of Gigamesh’s GOTF the sun has set and it’s time for the dancefloor (to the command “get on the floor if you’ve got that booty”) and you’re carried through the night by the big beats of Malandro and Jim-E Stack.
Malandro’s tribal drums and distant howls, known as tech-house, turn the night heady for a spell. But things turn out alright with Jim-E Stacks bringing back the funk.
From here the sun rises again on a new morning. Papa’s Put Me To Work is like a twenty-first century Bruce Springsteen with a powerhouse riff and charged outro. Caves have the voice and stoned blues of the Black Keys. “I care for you” cries the wrought singer before a caustic guitar break returns the spacey feel. And so adjourns a two-song indie section.
The album itself closes with a remix for Heartsrevolution in which sexually-charged lyrics meet faint and sultry music. Then, somewhat symbolically, Jhamell x DWNTWN X giraffage see things out having met at the first AMERICA release party last year. They do so aptly with another boy/girl collaboration and more spacious, modern beats.
Though not too much here may remain on playlists indefinitely, the collection does well in representing the sound of now. In 2013 that sound is typified by melodies that plummet into a warm ocean of sound or launch to stratospheric heights and lyrical themes that describe modern love and intimacy.
Thirty Pounds of Bone is the work of Johny Lamb, and ICSYHBFSOW (abbreviated for typing convenience) is his third album of folk songs using the moniker. Like Darren Hayman’s The Violence this is definitely a folk album, but one thing that it shares with that album (other than some vocals by Hayman, one of a number of guests on the record) is sounding traditional without ever slipping into genre cliche.
Time and place is an important theme of the album and the songs are divided into five time/place phases on the album. I’ll n kt make any effort here to try and analyse these phases in line with the songs, but there is a real sense of a journey as you move through the album. This is in part due to the style of the songs, opener ‘Veesik for the Broch’ is distinctly rural sounding whilst other songs bring to mind the sea or the town as you move through the album. This may have been influenced by the, many locations that the album was recorded in, and I imagine the writing was done on the road as well.
The pervading mood of the album is melancholy with even the most upbeat moment, the brilliant ‘Streets I Staggered Down’ having an undercurrent of darkness. This is in no way a criticism, and the dark mood brings forward a lot of quiet beauty across the twelve songs. ‘The Maritime Line’ is a case in point, it seems pervaded with sadness but the picked guitars and fiddle playing are so lovely that it can’t help but be an uplifting musical experience.
The instrumentation is impeccable throughout with banjos, dulcimers, accordions and dozens of traditional instruments subtly supported by electronics to deliver the set of songs. I’m particularly enamored with the banjo playing as it is one of my favourite instruments (be it played by Sufjan Stevens, Doug Dillard, Tony Trischka or Eugene Chadbourne) and it is often maligned.
ICSYHBFSOW is unlikely to be to everyone’s tastes, and starting and finishing with two of the more challenging songs on the album it isn’t a record that could be described as “accessible” (opening with the amusingly titled ‘How We Make a Mongrel of the Music of the Archipelago’ may have been an easier “in” for the casual folk fan). It is also an album that develops with every play and demands time from the listener, not something that necessarily sits well with the modern Spotify/iTunes educated audience. However, it is an album that has themes built around time and place and the sequencing of the songs is critical to the overall experience.
I feel very blessed this year so far, with few albums I’ve reviewed falling far below excellence and this is another example. It is the best folk album I’ve heard this year and one of the best albums full stop.
Melbourne’s indie music scene is continuing to reveal some hidden gems, with Lower Plenty, a supergroup of sorts made up of members of other local bands such as Deaf Wish, Total Control, UV Race and The Focus, the latest to catch our ear.
Now signed to Fire Records the band bills itself as “suburban country music” and on their second album Hard Rubbish it’s a tag they live up to, with a good dash of Allo Darlin’ and the obscure beat poetry of King Missile thrown into the mix. Recorded mainly around a kitchen table the jamming nature of the album gives it a nice, genuine feel and brings out some tender moments from Sarah Hayward’s soft vocals on the album’s more laid back tracks such as Grass and White Walls.
Al Montfort’s more spoken word style vocals are also a revelation, particularly on the album’s standout track Nullarbor with its shuffling drums and twinkling electric guitar.
Hard Rubbish was named best album of 2012 by Australia’s Mess + Noise showing the band are clearly building up a strong and influential following at home. There’s no reason why that can’t continue to build on that acclaim over here with its UK release this month.
Louisiana two-piece Generationals know how to experiment. But do they know how to get their experiments work?
Their experimentalism could be a Radiohead-style reaction to their (literal) commercial success (the band’s music has featured on ads for Bloomingdales and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). What’s good is that – three albums in – they are still willing to try.
Anyway, Heza opens with the deceptively punky Spinoza. This song and several other parts of this album sound like they’ve been recorded in a garage or a bathroom. If it’s genuine, then I love it. This is a good track and probably the best of the album.
That’s not to say it goes downhill afterwards, it just gets less accessible – more different. But different is good. Part of this difference is the extensive use of a Chinese-sounding chime motif. This is the enduring sound of the album, but it fringes on the excessive and even grating at times. Extra Free Year deploys these oriental chimes for the first time on the album. It’s a slower, more downbeat track but still attractive to the ears. Meanwhile, Awake, couples these bells with distorted vocals heard (as if heard from behind a glass waterfall). It’s an interesting track.
By track 5, Put A Light On,the clangs have taken on a rather industrial tone. And even though this is midway through, I was beginning to tire of them.Use more sparingly or more variedly next time please guys.
Contrasting with these tracks we have You Got Me, a Popcorn-inspired pop-a-long poppy pop sound that wouldn’t have been out of place as Commodore 64 loading music. I Never Know has a burst of upbeat blues, as does I Used To Let You Get To Me, which is a welcome return to accessibility at the tail end of the album.
Generationals are pushing boundaries. Not always successfully. But they needed to be applauded for it and nurtured as ones to watch.