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