Archive | February, 2012

The Black Keys – From Garage Bluesmen to Arena Fillers

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The Black Keys – From Garage Bluesmen to Arena Fillers

Posted on 09 February 2012 by Joe

With the release of their latest and most upbeat album, El Camino, we’ve seen The Black Keys complete their transformation from a dirty garage blues band to major festival headline material.

It’s the latest stage of an evolution that seemed extremely unlikely back in the days of their 2002 debut  Big Come Up (when the Black Keys were still cranking up the fuzz pedals and trying to shake off persistent comparisons with a certain other bluesy two-piece with a colour in their name). Of course The White Stripes have now called it quits and The Black Keys have inherited the crown as America’s favourite white boy blues band but the connection hasn’t been put to bed just yet.  The White Stripes’ Jack White  has decamped to  Nashville, coincidentally the place where The Black Keys and their producer Danger Mouse recorded and honed last year’s El Camino, which peaked at number 2 in the US Billboard charts.

But while there are similarities with Jack White’s band, the remarkable ascent of the Black Keys is arguably more reminiscent of the rise of Nashville’s own, Kings of Leon, who themselves could have been mistaken for one trick retro ponies at the time of their emergence.

Kings of Leon’s brand of Southern fried, booze fueled party rock on their 2003 debut Youth and Young Manhood had the critics at the time swooning but few expected them to return with straightening tongs and stadium rock appeal.

The media have always delighted in bunching bands together and calling it a movement and this has never been more apparent than at that time. Kings of Leon found themselves at the centre of a transatlantic ‘movement’ of apparently similar bands but with the only real interesting similarity being that so many of them demonstrated an astute ability to do a one album impression (albeit a good  impression) of their favourite retro bands.

The Strokes reveled in the Velvet Underground comparisons, the money men behind the Vines chose to push along an impression of Kurt Cobain, Franz Ferdinand seemed to fancy themselves as some kind of Scottish Kraut Rock throwbacks and The Libertines soaked up whatever flattery they could get but importantly, none of them really got over the second hurdle. Love them or hate them Kings of Leon have without a doubt proved themselves capable of leaping that with ease. 

By the time Kings of Leon had finished touring their fourth album, 2008’s Only by the Night, the band found themselves capable of filling arenas normally reserved for Green Day or U2. The Black Keys duo, of guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, are not far off that kind of popularity even if they have had to trudge through the sludge for longer than Kings of Leon. Their 2012 tour includes some ambitious venues for the duo, including three sell out nights at London’s Alexandria Palace, the 17,500 seat US Bank Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio and most impressively a headline slot at Coachella 2012.

The increased size of the venues is testament in particular to a recent grueling period of work for the band,  which has seen them been barely off the road or out of the studio since 2010’s Brothers, the album that won them three Grammy Awards, expanded their sound markedly and reached number 3 in in US Billboard charts.

Looking back at Brothers and listening to the equally ambitious El Camino it’s almost like they’re being groomed for the arenas, told that they’ve bled the blues dry and now it’s time to pick up more instruments and show what they can do.

There will be fans of The Black Keys who will be disappointed to see the band take the direction they have but it’s hardly Dylan plugging in or Metallica going through a hillbilly midlife crisis.  I would argue the departure from their original sound is a completely necessary one. With the flourishing sound of El Camino they’ve taken a bold step out of the blues shelter and they should be commended for it. They’ve demonstrated over the last year that they can put their own spin on the blues and mould songs every bit as distinctive as their sound, which has never been in doubt.

By freelance journalist Joe Marren. More of his work can be found here.

(Neonfiller says: We hope The Black Keys embrace their stadium appeal with maturity rather than the type of  childish arrogance that has blighted Kings of Leon in their most recent, successful years.  So far so good for the Ohio lads. See Also: Kings of Leon – What a bunch of babies , Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill Sinks To New Low With Cobain Comparison .)

 

 

 

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Ok Go – Needing/Getting

Posted on 07 February 2012 by Joe

Ok Go have excelled once again as the music world’s best video makers. For this version of Needing/Getting they set up more than 1,000 instruments in the desert outside of Los Angeles, which the band in a suped up Chevrolet with pneumatic arms then drives through and plays all at the same time.

The video took four months to prepare and four days to record with the band driving the car and refusing the option of using stunt drivers. To ensure all of the pianos played the right note they were carefully retuned. We were first alerted to this three days ago. It had just 300 viewers then. At the time of writing this figure had jumped to 4million.

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The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

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The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

Posted on 07 February 2012 by Joe

The My Bloody Valentine-esque guitars may have been discarded on this their third abum but Scottish band The Twilight Sad have lost none of their intensity.

On their previous album Forget The Night Ahead (see our Top 10 Albums of 2009 list) singer James Graham’s stunning and heavily Scottish accented vocals soared out of a wall of squealing guitars. This time around with Andrew Weatherall as producer and a bunch of vntage synths from Ben Hillier the sound is more controlled. Now Graham’s voice is complimented  by deep, burring 1980s synths, reminiscent of Depeche Mode at their most sombre or early New Order.

Opener Alphabet and end track Kill It In The Morning, which the band selected to release late last year as an early preview of the album, are a definite statement of intent regarding the use of keyboards. It tells their fans, ‘we’ve changed the instruments, but we are still the same band you love deep down.’

With guitar taking backseat the bass also comes to the fore, giving the band a new krautrock sound.  It’s this driving bass that makes tracks such as Dead City, with its enormous chorus, among the best on the album.

Granted the change in instrumentation is startling,  but it is a move that will only gain them new admirers. If anything it helps the listener focus on Graham’s vocals and  his ambiguous lyrics, which  as with their previous albums hint at the horrors that lurk in society and relationships.

The controlled passion here reminds me instantly of The National, while the use of vintage instruments reminds  me of The Walkmen. This album could be a turning point for the band that propels them to similar success.

There’s even a good single on the album, Another Bed, which in an interview with Thisisfakediy Graham admits “is probably the closest thing we’ve ever had to a proper single.” He adds though that this is an album that “is meant to be listened to as a whole.” We’d go even further saying that due to his vocals and use of familiar vintage keyboards this is an album that demands to be listened to as a whole. Album of the year? Well, early days, but its certainly in the running.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Danny Kendall – You Can’t Go Home Again

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Danny Kendall – You Can’t Go Home Again

Posted on 05 February 2012 by Dorian

‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ is the lead track and title of the debut three track EP by the Grange Hill referencing Danny Kendall. Danny Kendall is Ben Murray, former member of La Frange (who’s single ‘Fashion’ sits in the “should have been a top ten hit” category – check it out on Spotify) and part-time drummer for tge likes of Chris T-T and Jim Bob. He is joined on these recordings by Jonny Lamb, who normally records excellent folk music under the name 30 Ponds Of Bone.

Danny Kendall

90s indie pop/rock music is having a bit of a revival of late, with bands such as Yuck aping the big messy guitars of the likes of Dinosaur Jr. Danny Kendall are also in thrall to the 90s, but where Yuck and their ilk focus on the sludgier aspects of that decade of music, they focus on the bittersweet melodies and lyrics that made bands like Teenage Fanclub and The Pernice Brothers such a pleasure.

‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ is the fuzzy sound of Summer, released in the heart of Winter. That seems quite appropriate as the uplifting guitars and melodies rub up against the more downbeat mood of the songs lyrics. The “ah ah ah ah” chorus (this will make perfect sense when you hear the song) halfway through is a delight and the whole thing is guitar pop at its finest.

‘My Lover’s Arching Back’ is a more downbeat, but equally melodic, number with a raw honesty to the lyrics that stands it apart. This is sensitive song writing, and I mean that as a wholehearted compliment. The playing and arrangement is simple, and unfussy production suits the music perfectly. You know when the acoustic guitar intro is going to kick in to electric guitars and drums, but that takes nothing away from the pleasures of the song.

Final track ‘Here On My Own Tonight’ is possibly the pick of the bunch, an understated air of menace pervades the song (well, depending if you take the line “I’ll take the body, leave the head” literally it could be an overstated menace). The dual lead guitar lines and gentle picking over solid bass and drums is a satisfying sound. This track also lets loose and takes the opportunity to rock out a bit, a sound that recalls another classic sensitive indie-rock act, The Wedding Present.

In a post-Oasis, post-Coldplay world of drab British indie it is refreshing to hear a record that apes Teenage Fanclub whilst referencing Thomas Wolfe and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. This EP is literate, thoughtful and simple; available online for less than the price of a pint it is highly recommended.

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

Listen to the EP (available to download for £2.50) on the Lynch(ed) Recordings Bandcamp page http://lynched.bandcamp.com/album/you-cant-go-home-again.

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Dan Sartian- Too Tough To Live

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Dan Sartian- Too Tough To Live

Posted on 03 February 2012 by Joe

Dan Sartain has always seemed rather clean cut compared to his contemporaries. His tremolo laden rockabilly blues lacks the satanic bar-room brawling of Reverend Horton Heat and shuns the Cramps Hammer Horror surf, yet neither is he the lipstick-on-your-collar wholesome boy from next door.

But on Too Tough To Live Sartain has gone through a Weird Science transformation where he’s turned from a middle class square into a leather jacketed, shade wearing, dive bar cruiser. He’s rediscovered punk-rock and The Ramones are year zero.

Sartain’s always had a rebellious streak and a deep hankering for sweatbox guitars, because he knew he wasn’t Gram Parsons so had to base his style on something else, but only now has he realised there’s no need to bother with twelve bars when merely three chords will do.

Maybe it was working with Jack White’s Third Man label between albums which has made Too Lough To Live edgier than previous efforts like Join Dan Sartain, or more likely it’s mentally moving into the 1970’s.
This is illustrated with opener Nam Vet, which smashes his earlier peace and love openness in to a much gnarlier package, and I Wanna Join The Army which reflects the 70’s attitude of lets napalm the fuckers and get this thing over with.

The blues of Sartain’s earlier work has time and space, whereas Too Tough To Live packs all 13 songs into 19 minutes, the 70’s of coke and speed rather than the 60’s acid and grass. Its homage to the Ramones is unmistakable, Boo Hoo Hoo and Rona (Ramona anyone?) could be from Rocket to Russia complete with lyrics delivered in Joeys attacking drawl, and I’m Aware is Cretin Hop by any other name.

It’s a perfectly American sounding record, filled with a proper grinding blues guitar solo on Fuck Friday and an underlying surf vibe, it even honours county traditions of including a duet, Now Now Now which features The Go Go’s Jane Wiedlin.

The album’s highlights all touch on deep American attitudes to society and their identity: Swap Meet addresses buying dead men’s clothes at thrift markets out of necessity and I Wanna Join The Army has it’s F16’s and shaven heads. While the lack of welfare state and the American Dream are analysed
in I Got Insurance -“I got a car, I took a ride, I got insurance, in case I die”.

With so much crammed in to so little time there isn’t time to get bored as the tracks are over so quick, but this also means much of it blurs into the background a fact he’s proud of as Sartain brazenly proclaims Even At My Worst I’m Better Than You.

Too Tough To Live finally proves Sartain appreciates an air rifle once in a while, rather than just playing with a cap gun, so with a musical rampage just a matter of time he’s defiantly the side to be on.

7/10

by David Newbury

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Alex Highton – Woodditton Wives Club

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Alex Highton – Woodditton Wives Club

Posted on 02 February 2012 by Joe

There’s something so reassuringly cosy about the music of Alex Highton, the singer-songwriter who briefly flirted with fame three years ago when movie star Ashton Kutcher emerged as an unlikely fan.

His latest album Woodditton Wives Club, loosely based on his own move from the city to the village of Woodditton, Cambridgeshire, is as English as, well, a visit to a Cambridgeshire village.

Like an aspiring Ray Davies the album charts Highton’s search for a Shangri-La  away from the crime and loneliness of city life in rural Cambridgeshire. He even sings like Davies at times, but mostly  in the folk tradition of  Nick Drake or fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney.

Rob Young’s excellent study of British folk music Electric Eden is full of versions of Highton, who over the decades from Holst to Vaughn Williams to Richard Thompson and the Incredible String Band, searched for a quieter more traditional part of Britain away from the city. On the evidence of this album he is perhaps deserving of a mention in an updated version of the book. From instrumentation to songwriting to Highton’s endearing voice, this album is beautifully arranged.

Take one of our many highlights such as Stupid, its use of trumpets perfectly capture the spirit of The Kink’s village green as well as echo other more modern UK folk acts such as The Miserable Rich.

The Great Divide features some of the best guitar playing. Drake would have been proud to see his influence used so carefully. Towards the end of the album, with Highton firmly entrenched in country living, his voice and songwriting even seems calmer, more settled. What Will You Do When They Break Your Heart Again? is probably my favourite, mainly due to its nod to Pentangle, including Danny Thompson-esque double bass and John Renbourne guitar moments.

Three years on from Kutcher’s recommendation on Twitter, which prompted 63,000 hits to his Myspace page in two days, Highton is still unknown. Underservingly so on this evidence. We may not host Hollywoord parties or have a bitter divorce dispute with Demi Moore, but our little voice singing his praises will have to do for now.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

 

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