Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Dead Confederate - Wrecking Ball

You know that you are talented when the man responsible for signing Sonic Youth and Nirvana to Geffen hears your demo and straight away wants to sign you to his own label. This is exactly what has happened to Dead Confederate and after releasing an EP, touring with the likes of Deerhunter and Dinosaur Jnr they reconvened to record debut album "Wrecking Ball" which despite its late UK release date has already picked up speed in the US and led to a top 40 single in "The Rat", an appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and a tour with legendary band, Meat Puppets.

It is easy to see why Gary Gersh signed Dead Confederate from the moment opening track "Heavy Petting" starts, the most aggressive and rousing track on the album, nodding towards Nirvana with the element of raw guitar work as singer Hardy Morris croons much alike early Kings Of Leon material. Lead single "The Rat" shows off some great lyricism alongside an obvious talent in commercial songwriting while "It Was A Rose" alongside "The News Underneath" have their roots firmly planted in the country genre both musically and lyrically. Despite the opening track, "Wrecking Ball" often leads itself down a bleak depressing and emotional path that is obviously influenced by the popular grunge movement we all appreciated but doesn't copy it note for note.

While big bearded men crooning over spilt whiskey and broken down trucks is usually my thing, I must admit that there are elements to Dead Confederate that I don't appreciate. Sadly for me at least, bar the first track, they rarely seem to get to get out of first gear and while I'm a fan of both slow and fast music, when it all feels one pace it can lead albums to drag. This brings me onto my second and last dislike in terms of "Wrecking Ball". The guitar work is utterly fantastic, especially the lead guitar work which shapes most of the songs on the album in terms of melody but while I appreciate it, it all sounds pretty much the same and towards the end of "Wrecking Ball" you wonder if it may have been more beneficial to write an amazing EP rather than an average album.

Overall, as a writer and a music fanatic, I am eager to hear what the next Dead Confederate record is like because if they can get it as right as they show on "Heavy Petting" and "The Rat" and spread that out across an album, there would be nothing stopping Dead Confederate being one of the alternative markets big hitters.

3 / 5
The Obligatory - Cloudbursting

Bands from my home county of Cornwall are rarely ever taken seriously and they rarely ever get anywhere in the record industry and there is a good reason for that, as most bands from Cornwall are as original as putting presents under the Christmas tree.

Enter The Obligatory, a three piece who are releasing this, their first single "Cloudbursting", in January with all proceeds going directly to in support of Leukaemia Research. "Cloudbursting" itself is an alternative track that you originally feel will follow the technique of quiet verse and loud chorus but it isn't long until you realise that this won't be the case. The intro has a punk rock feel that evolves into a seemingly melodic collision of guitar distortion, this then makes way to the quiet first verse driven by a focus on the drumming and gravelly vocals. Once the first chorus hits and everything after ensues, you realise that you are involved in something that won't be easy to second guess and pigeon hole with the second verse initially sounding much akin guitar wise to The Mars Volta or even Battles. To top off the unpredictability, after the bridge solo which borders on a prog feel theres a complete change that sees the guitars dropping out in favour of just vocals and a bass drum only for "Cloudbursting" to slowly build back up into a Muse-esque riff.

It isn't all brilliance though, at times the production on the song sounds sloppy and some of the higher notes vocally initially grate. Also being nearly six minutes long, it is a bit too much at times and certain ideas could definitely have been shortened especially towards the end of "Cloudbursting".

All in all though, the overall reaction from me is a positive one and I'm eager to see what The Obligatory do next. Who would have thought it eh, a Cornish band who can play!

3 / 5

Monday, 21 December 2009

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - Kollaps Tradixionales

The pursuit of happiness in music can often be a difficult journey, especially if you find yourself with ideas that perhaps don't fit with your current band, a band who at the time were as popular as any other post-rock band, often on the lips of many cult fans, name dropping at every opportunity. That band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor were probably at the height of their powers in 1999 when guitarist Efrim Menuck decided that he needed a different outlet, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, and his decision along with two other members of GY!BE to split their time between the two creative forces probably led to the indefinite hiatus of GY!BE in 2003. While with their initial release, Silver Mt. Zion only seemed to confirm fans fears that Menuck was a one trick pony and we were all better left with GY!BE, they slowly grew into their own niche, moving away from the vocal-less and often frustratingly long and silent styling of GY!BE and into a place that fans still described as post-rock but different and something that they could appreciate in a different mindset.

"Kollaps Tradixionales" is the sixth album release for Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra on influential independent label, Constellation. Within seconds of opening track "There Is A Light" you instantly sense there has been a closure from past albums and experiences with said track building its punk folk sound with beautiful understated violin work behind crashing drums, violent guitar work and vocals howled often in a painful out of tune fashion....but it works especially in the third movement of the song, the quietest of the three thus causing Menuck to sing at a higher and frail sounding pitch with female vocals behind, offering a touch of vulnerability and emotion. "I Built Myself A Metal Bird" is more immediate than anything I've heard Menuck involved with before, based around a rousing distorted guitar melody as Menuck howls repetitively like the Blood Brothers vocalists. Propelled by steady drumming that never wavers throughout the whole track and at six minutes long, with definite structures, this is probably as close as Silver Mt. Zion will ever get to writing a pop song. Its follow up, "I Fed My Metal Bird The Wings Of Other Metal Birds" while being the second part of "I Built Myself A Metal Bird", is a completely different monster. Based around the more orchestral musicians in the band, it is an eerie six minute song that doesn't really get going until the four minute mark but once it does, it harks back to the moments we all appreciated in Godspeed You! Black Emperors back catalogue without giving you the feeling that it is being rehashed.

That pretty much sums it all up for "Kollaps Tradixionales". It is different enough for you to not judge it against the members past but at the same time, the best parts are the ones that rekindle that past. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestras strength ahead of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and any band of that ilk, is that they are versatile. They are happy to do songs in movements but there aren't huge sections of silence or filler that you are wishing away to get yourself to the beautiful parts like you would with other post rock records. On top of that, they have a drummer who completely drives every track on the album, who knows exactly what is too much and exactly when he isn't needed at all and that along with some of the violin work is what makes this release worth listening to.

If we want to look on the other side of the coin though, this is still inaccessible and to the untrained ear, this will be complete noise. The elitists will love it as they always do but this will not have Silver Mt. Zion breaking into any ground that they haven't already treaded in terms of their fan base and this isn't a release that I can see myself going back to frequently listen to no matter how much I appreciate it while I listen.

3.5 / 5

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Skylit Drive - Adelphia

Hassle Records are a label that I have always appreciated to a large extent, afterall they brought me one of my more liked bands of my teenage years, Alexisonfire, who I adored until I matured or until they steadily got terrible, whichever you prefer.

A Skylit Drive sound like they fit perfectly on Hassle Records. It isn't that they sound like Alexisonfire, they don't at all but they do flit in the same genre. Looking at the bands that they have toured with, bands that include the likes of Scary Kids Scaring Kids, The Blackout and From First To Last, you can see where A Skylit Drive are heading aesthetically.

Their second album "Adelphia" sees A Skylit Drive in a place where they probably want to be but a place that doesn't sit well with myself. Vocally, Michael Jagmin sounds very much like old Saosin mixed with Coheed And Cambria and while it worked for those bands, it sounds whiney and annoying here especially when backed up by the screams of Brian White who sounds very akin to the old vocalist from From Autumn To Ashes. Guitar wise, A Skylit Drive also sound very much like From Autumn To Ashes in their "The Fiction We Live" era and I often find myself hearing guitar pinches and thinking that they've been ripped distinctly from the From Autumn To Ashes back catalogue and while I can appreciate that From Autumn To Ashes were a great band when I was sixteen, they aren't a band that I want to hear rehashed and represented to me when I am nearly twenty four years of age.

Despite the brilliant but way too short instrumental "Worlds End In Whispers Not Bangs" which has so much unfufilled potential, I can't find anything memorable here because I feel like I have heard it all before and while it is done to the best of their abilities, i'd much rather go back into my old CD collection and dig out a golden oldie than to go out to a store and set aside hard cash for this release.

2 / 5
Zico Chain - These Birds Will Kill Us All

For me at least, alternative rock music has hit abit of a brick wall with English bands wanting to sound like American bands and American bands happy to succumb to label pressure in becoming more commercialised. Half the problem is, you either have bands too eager to write that chorus that will blow people away or you go to the other end of the spectrum, where bands scream their way through songs in an attempt to challenge people, none of which impresses me at all.

It is lucky for me at least that i've heard Zico Chain and their new EP "These Birds Will Kill Us All" who are modern enough to be deemed alternatively cool, sounding like Thirty Seconds To Mars mixed with Seether but adding an oldschool eighties rock sound that has led to Slash calling Zico Chain his new favourite band.

Lead track "These Birds Will Kill Us All" showcases Zico Chain at their best with the vocals teetering on the brink as Chris Glithero whispers and then shouts his way into a catchy chorus that borders between Alexisonfire and bands like Three Days Grace. On the other side of things "Daycase" shows Zico Chain in a sing-along punk mood and while to me, this is the weakest track on the EP, it is always nice to hear bands trying new things.

Zico Chain aren't the most ground breaking band on the planet but they do an alternative rock thing better than most bands are doing these days and they have reignited an ounce of faith for alternative music in me.

3.5 / 5
All Forgotten - Transitions

Emotional rock bands are ten a penny nowadays, especially on the slowly dying Myspace where for every ten bands you find, one will be an emo band. You can tell this normally due to cleverly designed pages full of advertising banners and portraits of the members, each adorning their own version of a side sweep, normally enhanced by some facial piercing. To add to this, every one of these bands usually has over ten thousand friends but yet, you've never heard of said band and you normally know why once you start that music player, it's because they are completely rubbish and listenable.

All Forgotten definitely fall into the emo trap with ep "Transitions" (I wonder if it is meant to come across as an ironic EP name) but that doesn't mean that I am prepared to right them off at a whim. Having toured with heavyweights You Me At Six and We Are The Ocean, you get a sense that All Forgotten have at least picked up the ability of how to pen a song even if their sound isn't something I appreciate. Vocally they are fairly strong, not relying on a whiney vocalist like most with Jonathon Thornes soulful voice sounding more towards Exit Ten than Senses Fail and fitting nicely with cutting and emotional screams. Guitar, bass and drum wise, there isn't especially anything new here. The guitar sound is that tried and tested standard emo guitar sound and it wouldn't surprise me if they all use ESP's. Like all emo and screamo bands these days, the bass is fairly inaudible and the drumming is all drum rolls and double bass but that isn't to say that they musicians in question aren't talented because it is obvious they are and it shows in how tight the songs on "Transitions" are.

It actually feels wrong to rate All Forgotten's EP because it simply isn't my style of music and hasn't been since I was eighteen but my gut instincts tell me that if I still liked that style of music, these would be a band I would follow. So if you are fans of bands like We Are The Ocean and maybe even the old Fightstar material, then I don't think you can go wrong in supporting a young and promising band like All Forgotten.

3 / 5
Jesca Hoop - Hunting My Dress

I first came across Jesca Hoop on a night when I was eager to watch Elbow who were touring their Mercury Award winning album "Seldom Seen Kid" at the time. You can imagine how difficult it must have been for her, warming up a crowd who didn't know or really care for her and were basically passing time before the ever popular Guy Garvey and Elbow took the stage. Hoop didn't particularly stand out as someone I would go out of my way to rediscover but she definitely held her own on that particular night, looking self assured and filling the stage despite her band consisting of just her and a guitar.

Strange then, that I find her latest album "Hunting My Dress" waiting for me to listen to and review with a promotion slip cleverly stating how she has been endorsed by Guy Garvey. Is that enough though, often it is the case that acts will be supported by musicians who can be said have made it and they just don't live up to the hype given.

It is fitting that I should start by saying, if you love Elbow, that doesn't mean that you will like Jesca Hoop. They are not the same entity and never will be, the only likeness they perhaps have, is that they are intelligent musicians and songwriters. "Hunting My Dress" is fundamentally a folk record gone wrong but not in a bad way. The nine tracks on this record aren't pieces of music that you can second guess, there aren't huge predictable choruses or predictable painfully rhyming lyrics, Hoop just doesn't work this way. Vocally, she fits in somewhere between Bjórk and Imogen Heap and musically, the core values apply; "Hunting My Dress" is not a huge swan song destined to battle it's way next to Mariah Carey on the mainstream charts but it has the strength to gain a cult underground following and this is something that I expect Hoop to achieve.

I'm curious what other music lovers think of "Hunting My Dress". Personally I find it brave and challenging without being too inaccessible, showcasing Jesca Hoops talent in penning songs and when I listen to Stings latest album and compare it to this, I know that Jesca Hoops record holds more value. I just wish albums like this weren't as ignored.

4 / 5

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Loss Of A Child - Carry Me Home

Record labels are a redundant practice currently in the music industry and it is rare to see any that focus on the art that is music instead of looking towards making a briefcase full of cash and the running into the sunset before losses can be made on that dreaded second album. It is to their credit then, that labels like Lost Children amongst others that I could name, are happily releasing talented artists that may never gain mainstream recognition for their work, for free via online downloads. I say may never gain mainstream recognition in the nicest way possible, this isn't because the releases are substandard, quite the contrary, this is because the bands on this label are generally experimental or post-rock, a niche that has underground recognition but aside from a few artists, has yet to break into your general pop charts. Loss Of A Childs fifth release "Carry Me Home" puts Lost Childrens album quota over the seventy mark and I can thankfully say that the majority of these albums, along with "Carry Me Home" would be more than worth buying on CD format, let alone downloading them for the lovely sum of completely nothing.

"Carry Me Home" is very much a post-rock album but with subtle differences that perhaps you wouldn't find on your more common and popular artists. While the snare drum rolls that we have all come to expect from Explosions In The Sky and their copycat bands are present, there is a stricter element on hand here and while Explosions In The Sky are happy to meander with interwoven guitar melodies for up to six minutes before they get anywhere thus alienating a core audience, Loss Of A Child are much more conscious of pop song structures. This doesn't mean that songs have verses and chorus' but more that they have movements that are easily defined and keep you involved and on your toes, rather than wishing for songs to end. To add to this, I am happy to add that there is an element of bands like 65daysofstatic here aswell, short track "Are You Watching Closely" surprises you immediately with its seething guitars cutting through your speakers shortly after a host of beautiful melodic songs and while this particular piece doesn't last long, it is enough to affirm that Loss Of A Child have it in them to write their music from many spectrums of post-rock music. Evident on a lot of tracks, especially opener "Dream", is the use of beautifully played emotional piano melodies underpinned by butterfly inducing strings and synthys that add a texture and warmth that a lot of vocal-less bands miss out on when avoiding the common ground of having a vocalist.

In the current climate, it is difficult to see who would buy this album despite how brilliant it is and despite the fact that having followed Loss Of A Child I can safely say that it is their most defined and beautiful album to date. Occasionally it touches on an indie sound that would be suited to a band on Big Scary Monsters label, whilst often flitting between bands like Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, Mogwai and underground favourites 65daysofstatic but it feels to me at least, that Loss Of A Child are desperately in need of a company to pick up on their music and use it in an advert if they are going to be fighting for attention with the experimental big boys which I must say, is where they deserve to be, at the top of the pack. If you are a fan of beautiful music, then look no further, download "Carry Me Home" for absolutely nothing because it is a complete gem.

4 / 5

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Johnny Flynn - Sweet William EP

The release of 'A Larum' in 2008 was a huge piece of momentary bliss for Johnny Flynn with said album being stated as the new force in folk music and making its way onto many journalists albums of the year. This EP, 'Sweet William EP' is somewhat a stop-gap, with four new tracks to tease fans and to stop the media forgetting about him before the release of his follow up album in 2010.

It all stays in familiar lands for Johnny Flynn with literally nothing changing from the style of his debut album. For fans of Johnny Flynn, this will probably only be a good thing and you can already sense that reviews will point towards Flynn becoming the next Bob Dylan. 'Drum' is the standout track in the 'Sweet William EP', its slow brooding drumming well suited alongside Flynns baritone vocals and bittersweet lyrics only lifted by majestic trumpets in the chorus, 'Drum' isn't exactly pushing the envelope but it is one of the most intelligently written songs you'll hear this year. EP opener, 'The Mountain Is Burning' follows closely behind in quality, with beautiful violin melodies seething in and out with a rousing American Civil War feel as Flynn morbidly sings "The end hasn't happened as the mountain is burning" in the chorus.

The problem is and always has been with Flynn that while he has touches of brilliance, you can often find that you are wishing songs to end. It has also been done before and if Johnny Flynn is put up next to Mercury Prize Nominee Fionn Regan, then I personally will pick Regan everytime because to put it quite simply, Regan is more immaginative and memorable. Folk is a strange genre and can both open you up to fans and alienate you at the same time, 'Sweet William EP' will keep Flynn close to his fans but I can't see him pushing into the mainstream market like Mumford & Sons have managed to achieve this year.

3 / 5

Monday, 7 December 2009

Speakyourheart - This Is How We Communicate

Speakyourheart, a four piece band from Eastbourne UK aren't afraid to lump themselves into the dying genre that is emo and certainly aren't afraid to cite influences that perhaps, even I would have happily name dropped within the explosion of school friendly inoffensive emo six or seven years ago. Everything from the band name, to the album name ('This Is How We Communicate') and even the artwork is Speakyourheart's way of doing exactly what emo says on the tin and sadly, the music side of them is happy to follow suit.

Opening track, 'Oh Brother We're Art Now' is Speakyourheart's most challenging and defining track, clattering in with upbeat, uncompromising drums and acoustic guitar melodies that beg for the distortion to be let loose to spill it into a hardcore offering. It isn't long before you realise that this will never actually happen as the acoustic noise subsides to allow Anberlin-esque vocals to take over which while may not be especially terrible on the ear, they also aren't anything particularly new or worth swooning over unless you are a sixteen year old girl.

It is actually hard to feel engaged on a musical level on any other track because to a large extent, they mould into one song and not into a beautiful floating post-rock sort of musical act, just into a dull, they've obviously run out of ideas and perhaps should have just hammered out a good Ep rather than a painfully dull album. Jimmy Eat World mixed with Dashboard Confessional this attempts to be but comes off a tired version of The Scene Aesthetic and let's be honest, The Scene Aesthetic were never that great and the call for music like this really has passed, it just has no spirit and no balls, avoid.

2 / 5

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Collapse Under The Empire - Find A Place To Be Safe

Collapse Under The Empire are a band that came across my attention awhile back when they wanted to release their music for free via my web-label. Combining the beauty of bands like Explosions In The Sky and Sigur Ros with electronic moments, I knew that they were a band that would eventually go on to create something unstoppable in the post-rock circles but I never quite expected to have a lovely packaged album come through my door looking quite as beautiful as the art for 'Find A Place To Be Safe' does.

Like most post-rock artists, the trick to enjoying Collapse Under The Empires album is setting aside the length of the CD, sitting in a darkened room and listening through the best headphones you have available. It is also very much like you'd expect, there isn't a hint of anyone showboating, the notes played are played to improve the song, not to show the listener how amazing the musician is and this style suits any post-rock band alike down to a tea. Unlike alot of their fellow contemporaries though, this band don't let the lack of vocalist get the better of them. At times with other artists you can find yourself looking at the track length and wondering where the song is going and almost wishing the time away. Collapse Under The Empire may have a sense for writing beautiful songs like the best of them but at the same time, they offer enough twists and turns for 'Find A Place To Be Safe' to be inspiring, at least for the first ten or so listens.

Sadly, I can't see this album being anything but ignored, which is a huge shame because it is worthy of anyones attention and in my opinion, if a song or two made it onto an advert, I am sure that people would accept Collapse Under The Empire much like people accepted Sigur Ros. So, this album is one for your genre fan, if you love all post-rock, I really don't think you can go wrong with this album. If you are a nan who enjoys listening to Frank Sinatra then I don't think you should buy this album. If you feel like being open minded, I recommend this, if you buy it and don't like it at all, even I would happily refund you.

4 / 5
Creed - Full Circle

Creed, a band that sold an estimated 35 million records worldwide and a band that I loved as a teenager are back eight years after the release of their last album 'Weathered' with their suitably titled new album 'Full Circle', out via Virgin Records on November 2nd.

Is it just me that thinks that the reunion in general seems a tad strange for Creed? Not only did it seemingly come from thin air but the animosity between Scott Stapp and his former bands seemed at such a negative height at one point, that it looked they would never ever speak favourably together again, let alone allow themselves to create music in a room together. Also, between Alter Bridge and Stapps solo music, you could argue that there wasn't a large amount of time for anything Creed orientated either, especially for the members of Alter Bridge who seemed to go from strength to strength gaining more fans and superlatives with each release.

So are Creed really needed in todays music world, would fans rather look back than hear new material, are they past it? All these questions arise as you slip 'Full Circle' into the CD drive and listen as it flicks into life.

Firstly, this is probably the heaviest that Creed have been. You can hear it on the opening track 'Overcome', 'Bread Of Shame' and also on the riff heavy 'Fear'. On the other side of things, it is also full of heartfelt sentiments of relationships gone wrong, mostly through 'Away In Silence' while 'Ran' shows the predictable single writing side of them. The problem is, that we've generally heard this all before, a predictable quiet loud verse chorus dynamic followed by a guitar friendly bridge, there is obvious talent within Creed, Tremonti is an amazing guitarist, while the bassist and drummer drive the song as the southern styling of Stapps vocals give Creed their most originality. 'Human Clay' spawned 'With Arms Wide Open' and 'Weathered' had the memorable 'My Sacrifice', there aren't many moments on 'Full Circle' that I can imagine a fan listening back to eight years after and still knowing the lyrics. Even new single 'Overcome' falls flat when compared to previous material, which is often the price exceptionally successful bands pay when they release new work.

Ultimately, 'Full Circle' is an album that didn't really need to be recorded, it just proves that Creed haven't really been able to move on from the sound that made them popular and with eight years between this album and the last, there should be something really amazing to show for it. That aside, if you love all things Creed and your music taste hasn't developed in eight years, then you'll like this but at the same time, you'd probably find something more fulfilling from Alter Bridge or an older Creed record.

2 / 5

Monday, 2 November 2009

Pascal Babare - Thunderclap Spring

Pascal Babare is an Australian solo artist who despite being only nineteen has somehow summoned enough time to learn his first instrument, the drums and then when bored with that, learnt more and then penned and self recorded a full length album, Thunderclap Spring that I am about to tell you about right now.

The fruits of Babare's labour is a lo-fi album that sits somewhere between pop, folk and shoe gaze music with no track venturing over the four minutes and the majority sitting in at the two minute mark. You won't find any singles here except perhaps "Ceremony", a beautifully understated Joy Division cover that sounds like it should be in a TV advert and could quite possibly be better than the original. You also won't find any pop song structures, Thunderclap Spring has its poppy moments but it is difficult to pick out obvious sing-along chorus' or a change of key for the bridge, Babare just doesn't work that way and it feels like it is all for the better. "Soft Focus" is one of Thunderclap Springs many standout tracks for me, a beautiful organ song, full with drum rolls and effect ridden vocals very much akin to the brilliant Hope Of The States. "Sweet Bee, Sweet Brother", one of a handful of vocal-less intermissions, slowly builds with distorted guitar and feedback, making you want the song to collapse in on itself until it fantastically draws itself back into what it beautifully started as, making the track a lesson to any post-rock band. "Lumberjacks Burn Green Wood" shows Babares versatility, built on a simple and dark guitar melody with Babares vocals sitting somewhere between Bright Eyes and Sparklehorse showcasing what can be done when things are simplified.

I really couldn't say enough great things about this record, its lo-fi recording makes it endearing, it may not have a distinct single but you will definitely fall in love with one track if not them all and in general Thunderclap Spring shows a great maturity that I haven't heard from a singer songwriter in a long time, if ever. If you do anything before 2009 is finished, it should be picking up this album, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

4 / 5
Espers - III

Wichita Records are well known for signing popular underground bands, that well known in fact that they are perhaps becoming a cult label, with an expectancy following each new release on this label rising and rising until the hype in the indie scene is perhaps unbearable. Bands like Bright Eyes, Bloc Party and Yeah Yeah Yeahs amongst others can be found residing on their books along with the band i'm reviewing today, Philadelphia folk band Espers. III is Espers fourth album, following their last album II that garnered favourable reviews and is the first album to see them venture into officially being a five piece.

First things first, if you literally buy albums just because of the Wichita thing then beware, Espers aren't anything in the ilk of Bloc Party, with III perhaps venturing into the delicate folk stylings of Conor Obersts Bright Eyes work but add a twist which they call psychedelic folk and most of us media types will probably just slot into a nu-folk generalisation. Nothing about Espers will smack you in the face and say listen to me, there are no singles here, just slow burning songs that perhaps wouldn't go a-miss on the Kill Bill soundtrack. III starts off slowly, with "I Can't See Clear", an obvious folk song driven by Meg Bairds bog standardly obvious female vocals underpinned by a guitar melody that is completely begging to be let loose but never really gets the chance. In frank honesty, most of what follows is pretty much the same with the beautiful guitar melodies covering the same ground while the female vocals do their formulaic thing as the lead guitar begs to roar and make the songs actually go further than a place I like to call unmemorable street. There is talent within Espers though and that is showcased through stand out track "Colony", driven by tribal sounding drumming, hammer horror-esque violin melodies and haunting Porcupine Tree sounding vocals. "Colony" is a song that seems to go somewhere and actually make you listen, the only shame is, it is the only track on the album that I actually enjoyed listening to.

I am a folk fan, so it pains me when I listen to something that dresses itself up as something more exciting than it actually is. III is an unmemorable album that delves into the realms of what I'm calling a completely substandard version of The Coral, there are great moments but they are few and far between and this isn't a disc I can recommend anyone into buying.

1 / 5

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Northwestern - Ghostrock

For alot of music lovers, it was a dark day when Hope Of The States confirmed their split in 2006. With their albums "The Lost Riots" and "Left", they had subconsciously taken an MTV2 friendly indie sound that had been done to death and made it interesting, grandiose and for most part interesting. Hope Of The States were epic, often backed by choir vocals and orchaestral instruments whilst led by the political and emotional angst of Sam Herlihy's lyrics that made Hope Of The States so inspiring. So when Hope Of The States confirmed their split in 2006, it was for me as a music lover, a huge loss to a British music scene that seemed on the up at that point(with the success of bands like The Cooper Temple Clause and the continuing success of The Coral, etc).

Luckily for me and other Hope Of The States fans, 2009 sees the entrance of The Northwestern and their debut EP "Ghostrock". Fronted by Sam Herlihy with the backing rhythm of former Hope Of The States drummer Simon Jones, The Northwestern are much like you would expect them to be. Vocally and lyrically they sound very much like Hope Of The States and opening track "What Did I Do" confirms this with lines like 'I went to church once to get some answers but Jesus he had nothing to say, he's got his reasons, I'msure he's got his reasons but I won't bother again', very much business as usual with trumpets hounding the chord sequences in the chorus. Where The Northwestern do differ however, is in their guitar work. Once again "What Did I Do" marks as the best example of this, with a gloriously dirty guitar hook scything through the middle eight just when you thought you were listening to Hope Of The States. Follow up track "Ghosts On Vhs" also shows difference even from "What Did I Do" with a mainstream MTV2 friendly sound brilliantly underpinned by a wonderful guitar melody on the chorus that I quite frankly expect to hear in an advert soon. "House Of Bees" is probably the most understated song on "Ghostrock" relying heavily on an organ and Herlihy's original vocals which at times on this track, resemble Chris Martin of Coldplay but not in a bad way.

Basically, if you liked Hope Of The States, you will like The Northwestern. If you liked Hope Of The States but found them abit samey, you'll find that you'll like The Northwestern that bit more. Ultimately, "Ghostrock" is the sound of a band whos musicians have learnt from the past and used that to push their music to the next level. Now all they have to do is make a full length.


Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Cue The Moon - Thought Forgotten Spoken

Bands may not realise it, but artwork can and does have an impact on how their record is viewed. My example is Cue The Moon with their album 'Thought Forgotten Spoken' which is so strange in its indie-esque ways, that I knew straight away that it would be one of the first going into my record player and if I was in a store, buying at a whim (does anyone else do that?), this is the sort of album art that would catch my eye and make me purchase it, even if I hadn't heard previously.

Buying albums due to the art, can be disastrous at best most often, luckily for Cue The Moon though, this isn't the case for them. 'Thought Forgotten Spoken' is perhaps one of the weirdest albums I have ever listened to and I say that as a huge compliment. It starts off with 'Its Me, Oh Lord', a lo-fi recording of a child singing something that I remember singing at primary school and from there it just gets weirder with 'Pox' and its weird keyboard melody and general Sparklehorse sound. It isn't all quirky fun and games though, Cue The Moon also know how to write something charming. 'Choose Your Weapon' is grandiose with a beautiful guitar melody backed by a wonderful nursery rhyme esque chorus and absolutely phenomenal sounding violins. 'Skin A Devil' picks things up, driven by a funky Beck bassline and a vocal delivery that we have probably become familiar with via Porcupine Tree. 'Thought Forgotten Spoken' really is a genre jumper of the best kind, just when you think you think they sound like Sparklehorse, they turn into Radiohead, then Porcupine Tree, then The Cooper Temple Clause and it never seems to end, I could list literally a hundred bands who Cue The Moon sound like but ultimately, they are just hugely original, highly talented and 'Thought Forgotten Spoken' is them at the height of their power showing off the fine craft of their art.

So take some advice; Be like me, look at the artwork for this record and pick it up without even hearing it, you won't regret it and you'll have found one of the best albums this year.

Shelley Short - A Cave, A Canoo

Shelley Short isn't a name I have come across previously, in fact, I’m not sure if hers is a name that many music lovers have come across previously but that isn't because she releases absolute rubbish, no, that would be a lie and in all honesty Shelley Short is something of a revelation. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Short has been steadily releasing albums and touring with the likes of M Ward (Who you may know from the works of Bright Eyes), which you would think would have gained her a bit of recognition, but as I’ve not heard of her, I’d argue that she isn't a folk star yet.

That is all set to change with the release of 'A Cave, A Canoo', which is full to the brim of beautiful guitar melodies and Laura Marling sensibilities just minus the quirky lyrics but plus an experimentation that makes Short far more interesting and European sounding at times. Mainstream and predictable this isn't but at times, you can imagine Short fitting in nicely on an episode of Jools Holland. Tracks like 'Racehorse' build up and sooth back down to brilliant effect alongside the eerie lo-fi qualities of the beautifully vulnerable 'Tap The Old Bell'. If you don't listen to this album carefully, you miss out, car music or doing the housework music, this isn't but I don't think anyone will better this effort when listened to through headphones, staring out of your window on a rainy day.


Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Cinematics - Love And Terror

After The Cinematics first album 'A Strange Education', released on TVT records, hit the shelves, there was a buzz in certain circles, a buzz that these guys would be a band who could achieve some mainstream success; this band could really do this. Fast forward and you have the same old story for most bands currently; the label receives financial trouble and the future for The Cinematics and the release of their second offering 'Love And Terror' looks bleak and unlikely at best but luckily, The Orchard stepped in and despite most on the TVT roster becoming homeless, The Cinematics retained a record label and 'Love And Terror' has finally seen the light of day.

'Love And Terror' isn't the rousing swansong I expect it to be though, after such a potential breakdown, I expected The Cinematics to come out, all guns blazing, full of urgency and a new lease of life, I’d even heard rumours that their new material contained a more raw sound that you'd expect to hear live more than on record. Where these rumours came from I do not know but I don't think the Editors-esque offering of 'All These Things' with its Bloc Party drumming is reminiscent of any rough and raw band. The Cinematics are clearly a band that wear their influences on their sleeves with 'Lips Like Yours' sounding akin to Echo And The Bunnymen and 'Wish' containing The Cure-esque guitar sound from the 'Boys Don't Cry' era, it would be obvious if you said that The Cinematics have just listened to great music from the past and looked at what has been popular indie-wise in the last five years and basically copied that formula.

Although not hugely original, there are some fine moments in 'Love And Terror', the title track for me, is its main stand-out, with a groove orientated riff supported by a rousing bass line and dark eighties tinged vocals, this is the sort of track that could easily have worked on the oh so brilliant Donnie Darko soundtrack. These moments are few and far between though and on a ten-track album, you really shouldn't be wishing for the end after track four.

Finally, in an attempt to not be completely negative about this record, I will say this; 'Love And Terror' is a slab of that dark brooding Joy Division MTV2 indie that bands like Editors have achieved mainstream success with and I can't see why any fan of Editors wouldn't necessarily buy into this, especially when Editors new material sounds so wrong.

2.5 - 5

Monday, 5 October 2009

Reuben - We Should Have Gone To University

'We Should Have Gone To University' is a double CD and DVD that marks the indefinite hiatus of underground alternative British rock band Reuben. After their initial EP, Reuben exploded onto the British music scene with their debut album 'Racecar Is Racecar Backwards', a brilliant slab of alt-rock that showcased a sense of urgency alongside a beautiful melodic output, adding a freshness to the quiet-loud dynamic that had since become stale since Nirvana and spawning such great songs as 'Freddy Kreuger' and 'Lets Stop Hanging Out', both with a relate-able quirky element to them. Two albums followed, 'Very Fast, Very Dangerous' and 'In Nothing We Trust', both showcasing a different sound to Reuben fans, perhaps simpler and maybe heavier but none-the-less, still very Reuben, containing the DIY spirit they had since become renowned for. Reuben continued to tour constantly in-between working daytime jobs garnering more fans and better reviews becoming an underground band that you admired, perhaps you were even proud of; a band that worked so hard that they deserved to have a huge break through and it is a shame they have become yet another victim of the music business.

Essentially this is a b-sides cash in but obviously has an emotional attachment due to the fact that Reuben are no longer with us. On this release it is sadly quantity over quality really with the release spanning a massive forty seven tracks, some of which are single versions, live versions or remixes of the same songs which is disappointing as you find yourself skipping through tracks you've already heard twice before and if you haven't heard them before, you find the occasional few substandard ideas or just badly recorded songs in general.

That isn't to say that there aren't any gems on this release because there are. Songs like 'Shambles' and 'Lissom Slo' showcase a different side of Reuben, a heartfelt emotional vulnerable side with Jamie Lenmans vocals sounding like they could crack in two at any point but in a good way. 'Victim' harps back to the days of 'Racecar Is Racecar Backwards' but with a sound more mainstream than anything they have achieved previously. Also included is 'Scared Of The Police' which has always been a live favourite with its kooky lyrics and sing-along chorus. Note-ably, some cover versions are also included such as 'Feel Good Inc.' (Gorillaz) and 'The Hand That Feeds' (Nine Inch Nails), which despite looking like they could be disastrous on paper, actually work to great effect.

Ultimately, 'We Should Have Gone To University' is a fan boy/girl release. If you haven't heard Reuben before, then I recommend 'Racecar Is Racecar Backwards' however, if you are a huge fan and have all their other albums then you need this to add to your collection.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

InMe – Herald Moth

There was once a time when InMe were at the forefront of British music with their debut album Overgrown Eden. Despite being what I would consider, immature nu-grunge, it was hugely successful reaching number 15 in the UK album chart at the time leading to Overgrown Eden being re-released. Their follow up, White Butterfly was overall, a huge step up, a rock record that was well crafted in every way and one that should have seen InMe not just adding to their success in the UK but branching out even further. It didn't happen and since, despite having a release in between (Daydream Anonymous), it feels like, to this reviewer at least, that InMe have fallen from the radar.

It's lucky for fans of InMe then, that Herald Moth comes into the forefront two years after its predecessor and initially see's InMe back in open sight gaining good reviews from Kerrang!, Rock Sound and being recommended in HMV's metal section.

The first thing notable about InMe is how much they have evolved. No longer the longhaired immature Nirvana wannabe's, they have slowly grown into a monster eager to please you with complex metal licks. They are no one trick pony though, don't expect your bog standard double bass frenzy covered with unlistenable screaming because Dave McPherson's vocals are stronger than they have ever been and that is showcased on the slower, more radio friendly 'All Terrain Vehicle' that see's InMe step away from their new Metal roots and into a completely different forest, epic and beautiful in its structure like you would expect from perhaps the likes of Kelly Clarkson. With new member, second guitarist Ben Konstantinovic, they have also managed to fill their sound out considerably and at times this can lead to chorus' sounding absolutely massive and also with the dual guitar tones, leads them to often sound a bit like Sikth which is no bad thing at all.

It's not all good though. Sometimes the technicality of the guitars plus its tone can border alongside cheesy and sometimes InMe's brilliantly unpredictable song structures and ideas just don't seem to work like on the strangely picked first single 'Single Of The Weak'.

Frankly though, that's being picky for the sake of it. This is a great album, a great British album and InMe should be a band that we celebrate, not ignore.... so buy this record right this second.


The Candle Thieves – The Sunshine Ep

The Candle Thieves, a happy go lucky two piece from Peterborough who specialise in a sickly sweet take on modern day pop with a sense of accessible quirkiness reminiscent of the likes of The Thrills at times.

The Sunshine Ep
is best enjoyed in a garden with your best friends, lying back and catching the sun on the best of summer days and while England may have had a terrible summer this year, The Candles Thieves are here to make you remember those good summers past. The strength with this Ep, is its use of instruments that we don't always hear especially the nice touch of toy instruments that give an added brightness and sense of fun to an already poppy Ep. Backing vocals are ingeniously used in every track to fill the gaps, giving a sense of grandiose to every track but never taking away from the main vocals. The Candle Thieves aren't especially out there but what they do, works in a song format to the best of their abilities and lets be honest, they aren't Muse, they will never be epic and rocky and chances are, they probably won't ever be hugely popular but there was once a day when people gave their hearts to Hellogoodbye and The Candle Thieves work alongside that ilk but are arguably better at there craft.

So if you enjoy happy summery songs, then you won't go too far wide of the mark with The Candle Thieves, who are definitely an act to keep an eye on in the future if The Sunshine Ep is anything to go by.


Saturday, 26 September 2009

Lethal Bizzle - Going Out Tonight

Sometimes, you can tell just by looking at a CD cover and listening to an artist for thirty seconds that you aren't going to find anything of substance. Lethal Bizzle falls under this practice and 'Going Out Tonight' is the single doing the rounds and quite frankly punishing my ears.

The first lines in 'Going Out Tonight' are "You want to play with the Bizzle" and "You wanna holla at the Bizzle", with this in mind, you can see where the song is going in terms of maturity and substance, quite frankly, a two year old could have written better opening lyrics. Musically, Bizzle follows that cliché late Friday night Radio One slot sound which involves distorted basslines driving the track as unmemorable 'lyrics' are spoken over. As always, melody is supplied in the form of female vocals cutting into the chorus, rocket science this song isn't, utterly rubbish it is.

Do you like to get off your face on drugs and booze as you attempt to dance and look cool? Do you like to put ridiculous things on your car that do not improve it in anyway? Do you enjoy winding down your window and playing music full blast as you shout at unsuspecting pedestrians? If I just described you, then chances are, you'll like this rubbish. If however, you actually have sense and enjoy substance in your music or at least an ounce of talent, then you'll be with me on this.

Lethal Bizzle gives urban music a bad name, just stop please.

Lily Allen - 22

Given the latest story doing the rounds at NME, the release of Lily Allens latest single '22' seems pointless if she no longer wishes to continue with music due to and I quote "Not being able to make money" with the 1.5 million copies of 'It's Not Me It's You' sold worldwide along with the sold out tours.

'22' is pretty much what you'd expect with Lily Allen, fitting in with the previous singles from 'It's Not Me, It's You'. Once again, we have an inoffensive bubble gum pop sound with Allens now frankly quite tedius social commentary on the constraints of growing up.

Everything on this song is slick and sickening, a flawless production, glossed up vocals and pop structures, this isn't anything we haven't heard from other acts and this isn't a change from any other song on Allens latest album. The days of Myspace demo's really are over as this shows how big an effort Lily Allen has made to become more accessible and mainstream, being so blatant in the hunt to sell records that it maybe is the only thing now offensive and out there about Allen.

I personally have nothing against '22' but there was once a time where I could respect Lily Allen for sounding alittle different and at least speaking her mind via the media: now when I listen to her music I can't help but feel wrong and when she is quoted in the media, I can't help but see daddies princess just having fun making a record.

In short, Lily Allen, if you hate music so much, move aside so EMI can sign a band that actually want to be musicians, want to challenge the industry and stop wasting our time.

Alice In Chains - Check My Brain

The loss of a vocalist is difficult at the best of times. It often leads to disbanding or for most, follow up material that doesn't quite match up whether vocally or musically to the material previously released. Alice In Chains however, have a bigger job than most being one of the biggest bands of the Grunge era, achieving two number one albums and six Grammy Award nominations before the death of Layne Staley in 2002.

'Check My Brain' is the second single from the hotly anticipated new album 'Black Gives Way To Blue' with Alice In Chains now fronted by Comes With The Fall vocalist William DuVall and fans will be happy to know that DuVall is very much like Staley in his vocal delivery and with that in mind, not much has changed. 'Check My Brain' is very much balanced around an extremely cool guitar riff that makes it groove much like old Alice In Chains would, much like alot of old school grunge bands did and while this is not my cup of tea at all, I can see why any old-school rock fan would appreciate this because the talent and substance in this band still stand strong and personally, i'm hoping bands like Alice In Chains can come back and force music fans to look towards older bands to see where newer bands gain their influences.

So, to round it all up; If you liked Alice In Chains before or if you are into that older grunge rock sound but haven't found any new releases that are doing it to an exceptional standard, then check out 'Check My Brain' and the album 'Black Gives Way To Blue'. If however, you are like me and you aren't into this, then maybe it's best to stick to your Take Thats Greatest Hits album because this isn't offering anything groundbreaking from their previous material.