Monday, 25 January 2010

My Bloody Valentine
Creation Records
Rating: 4/5

Ok, so I was pretty close to knocking this down to 3/5. Why? Because yes, it's a landmark record: along with Psychocandy by the Jesus and Mary Chain it practically invented shoegazing proper, but the songs aren't always consistent, and let's be honest there are some shit tracks on there. In terms of influence, of course it's a five, and there are some incredible tracks there- 'When You Sleep', 'Come in Alone' and 'I Only Said' still to this day blow my mind when I listen to them. At the same time, however, there are a number of songs I don't care for, either because they strike me as unmelodic, or because they bring little new to the table.

Sonic Youth had already been prominently doing the unmelodic wall of noise for some time before Loveless, so tracks like 'What You Want' and 'Loomer' are uninspiring and a little underwhelming when compared with, say, the utter sonic annihilation that is 'Only Shallow', undoubtedly one of the best songs EVER written. 'Touched' is just frankly a crock of shit, and should not have made the album. 'Sometimes' meanwhile enjoys a frankly bizarre cult status, when to me it's winding, overly long and not that interesting.

So much has been said about this band over the years that I won't burden myself by writing at too great a length, suffice to say that they have become like Sonic Youth; a band that those not in the know namedrop to sound cool. Sad as that is, it necessitates a re-evaluation of this album on the merits of its individual songs. Luckily, between 'Only Shallow', 'To Here Knows When' and 'Blown a Wish' this album is still jaw-dropping enough to warrant its reputation. Turn up your stereo and play 'Only Shallow' and just try, no dare to tell me that shit isn't insane.

Because, as the singer/guitarist in my first band once said to a crowd at a gig, "what we lack in talent we make up for with volume and aggression". Clearly a lesson learned by MBV many years before I was even born.

P.S. Look at how many amps Kevin Shields is using!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Team Sleep
Team Sleep
Maverick Records
Rating: 4.5/5

I thought it was about time to include some trip-hop, so here we are: the loosely trip-hop dark electronic masterpiece that is the first Team Sleep album. From the opening drum loop on 'Ataraxia' you know this is going to be a sensational record, and save for the rap chorus of 'King Diamond' there isn't a bad song on here (although my friend who introduced me to this album swore by that as a great track, so).

After single 'Ever (Foreign Flag)', which showcases Chino Moreno's incredible voice, 'Princeton Review' and 'Our Ride to the Rectory', both suitably slow burning, steal the show; particularly the rhythmic breakdown at the end of 'Princeton', which is just downright cool. In 'Your Skull is Red' and 'Blvd. Nights', the band show their heavier side, and whilst great songs ('Blvd. Nights' in particular, which could very easily be a Vex Red b-side), you kind of feel like they are a little too similar to Saturday Night Wrist to really be the highlights of an album that is clearly about a different vibe to those of the Deftones.

For a combination of those amazing Chino vocals (see 'Ever Since WWI'), sparse electronica ('Tomb of Leigia') and the band's minimalist, left-field rock, look no further than 'Live from the Stage'. Years ago when I played this album to the girl I was with at the time, she pointed this out as the best song on the album, saying it sounded like the band "were playing on the surface of the moon". I can't help but agree. It's huge enough to suggest that the band are 238,000 miles from Earth and still counting. Let's hope that album two, slated for a 2010 release, takes them further into the void.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

People in Planes
As Far as the Eye Can See
Wind-Up Records
Rating: 4/5

To begin writing about this record it seems important to point out something I say a lot: there is basically nothing truly original to be done in music these days. To steal from the script of Primer, it's now a case of "taking from your surroundings, and making of them more". At this, People in Planes are an exceptional case. Track for track, this album is of a startlingly high quality, and there is not one weak song on it. Critics of the band will point to their obvious influences, but this belies the fact that it's a great album anyway, and that the list of influences is just diverse enough to make a really great rock record.

So what does it sound like? The opener, 'Barracuda' is very QOTSA, or perhaps first-album Wolfm
other; listen and decide for yourself. Track two sounds a lot like Effloresce-era Oceansize. Track three sounds like My Iron Lung EP-era Radiohead, but with a large pinch of some other that is entirely PiP's own. 'Moth' is more of their own style, with a small amount of '2+2=5' in the mix. 'Rush' with Damon Albarn singing could be a track from the tail end of the first Gorillaz album. 'My Black Widow' is almost like something off of A Crow Left of the Murder by Incubus; 'Leech', or any of the moments of heavy riffing that they do post-Morning View. In 'Token Trapped Woman', the album's best track PiP have no obvious comparison, as with 'Falling by the Wayside', 'Fire' and the wicked closer, 'Narcoleptic'. 'Light for the Deadvine' and 'Penny' both remind me of something that I can't place, so maybe it's more of a vibe than an actual direct comparison in my mind; they are great songs anyway.

At this point, I should mention that I once caught this band supporting The Crimea at the Camden Barfly. Opening with a shambolic 'Vader's March' the band played a chaotic set that whilst in terms of stage presence was, well, intimidating in its violence and energy, was musically unimpressive. As a result, I was surprised that when I picked up this album in the reduced section of Amoeba records SF I thought it was awesome. Also, their lead guitarist is really fucking talented, and I always have to give kudos for any guitar player that does something I can't instantly pin down. On this record are some neat sounds and effect tricks that I still haven't worked out how to do myself, and geeky as it is that really impresses me.

In short, like solid alternative rock? Look no further. Like early Oceansize borderline prog/alt rock? Look no further. Impressed by solid songwriting? Look no further. Prefer strong melodies and a more 'pop' sensibility? There's something for you here too. In short, it's a Smorgasbord. If you like any kind of alternative rock, I defy you, having set your prejudices about 'originality' aside, to dislike this record. It fucking rocks.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

New Stuff

Andy Needham
Briefcase of Fire
Battle for Prague
Night & Day: 19th January 2010

Right, so I'm ashamed to say I was around the corner in Spoons having a pint when Andy Needham played. I did hear them crack out a tune in soundcheck and what I gathered from that was pleasant piano-cum-acoustic fare, with competent vocals- exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to open a night at a quality venue like N&D.

So then, onto Briefcase of Fire. Taking the stage, it was promising that their guitarist was carrying a Flying V. As soon as they began however I realised that my optimism had been misplaced. Their singer insists on affecting a James Hetfield accent, and their chugging, power-chord driven songs all blended into one, with the possible exception of 'Hair of the Dog' that featured some more mid-career Soundgarden riffing. During their set, they kind of empty the venue, and although we all have to be in a band this bad at some point in our lives, for me it was at age 15, not 20. Bottom line here guys: you aren't very good, sorry. The doctor prescribes a strong dose of band practice and song writing before your next outing, and maybe then it'd actually sound coherent.

Battle for Prague should probably be the ones called Briefcase of Fire, for, good as they are, I can't really discern any obvious influences apart from different Kings of Leon albums. Their singer does do a very good Caleb Followhill, granted, but if this isn't deliberate, then it's surely unfortunate: for their songs are actually pretty good, and the standard of musicianship on display is exceptional (especially when contrasted with the band before. With their penultimate song they break their own rules, upping the the pace and leaving behind the flat Kings sound, managing to produce a quality alternative rock number that hopefully shows the future direction of this band. They've got the talent, all they need now are the songs to make them stand out.

But isn't that the problem that most unsigned bands have?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Better to burn out...

Heard that The Old Romantic Killer Band broke up the other day, gutted. Also, it means I'll definitely be wrong with my 'hot tip for 2010' in HV. Oh well. Is it too late to say that Delphic are going to be massive?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Skinny Boys
Two Days Old
Rating: 3/5

Liverpool's Skinny Boys are a band I've been following for a while now after I accidentally caught them live in Manchester. On the strength of their early 'Holding On' and 'French Underwear' demos, which were both exceptional (indeed, if it were a single in its own right- A: Holding On/B: French Underwear, I'd give it 4.5/5), I was excited to hear that they were planning a new release. Now remember this: as a rule, I don't like indie rock, so it should show the quality of this band that I'm prepared to sit up and take notice.

'Two Days Old', unfortunately is a little underwhelming compared to their previous efforts; it lacks the staccato buzz of the chords in 'French Underwear' and the bass growl and crunchy, melodic early Radiohead/Pixies leads of 'Holding On'. The riff is a bit 'Banquet' by Bloc Party, but unlike the former, doesn't resolve into anything more interesting, but stays at the same hi-hat heavy disco pulse throughout.

There's been some development in the singing, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it's a less interesting song to listen to. That's no reason to write off this band, however; it's not a bad single by any means- it's just they can do better, and I hope with their next single that they do.

'Two Days Old' is out 12th of April, and the launch party is at the O2 Academy Liverpool on the 14th. On the 26th of February they play the Studio in Manchester.
For more info:
How Coldplay inadvertently defined rock n' roll

'Amsterdam', the last track off Coldplay's second album, Rush of Blood to the Head is still pretty much the yardstick by which I measure a truly timeless song. A lot of people are surprised that I like Coldplay's first two albums (they lost their way with X&Y, although the title track and a couple of others are pretty ace), but they really are pretty close to my heart. I only got into really experimental music long after I was playing it myself- in my teens, it was grunge rock, Radiohead, Muse R.E.M. and Rage all the way. To me, Coldplay, with its relative sparseness and simple, reverb-laden guitar melodies, was from another planet- it was the reason i first bought a delay pedal, in any case, and it's that path that eventually led me to Shoegazing as a genre.

But enough autobiographical babble. What's the deal with this song? From the first reverb-drenched burst of noise, it makes my blood run cold. Just the combination of Chris Martin (let's forget personalities here, and focus on the music) and a piano, simple, almost childish lyrics about losing the plot- "I swerve out of control" and being out of love "my star is fading/I see no chance of release/I know I'm dead on the s
urface/but I am screaming underneath" are universal enough that anybody at some time in their life can connect with them. We all feel completely shat on sometimes, and then, just when you're crushed by just how fucking depressing this song is, it all comes together.

At 3:58 the drums and guitar come in. Guitar chords with mild delay and overdrive, played Ramones-style, entirely in downstrokes; it's an aggression that absolutely breaks the bonds of what came before it. Most other bands I listened to at the time, or since, would have had to create a wall of distortion and start shouting to get the same impact, but with Coldplay it's something as subtle as playing in downstrokes; Chris Martin doesn't even alter his delivery one bit, knowing that the words will do the work for him:

Stuck on the end
Of this ball and chain
I'm on my way back down
Stood on the edge
Tied to the noose
Sick to the stomach
You can say what you mean
But it won't change the scene
I'm sick of the secrets
Stood on the edge
Tied to the noose
But you came along
And you cut me loose

Feel free to call me a schmaltz-loving freak with no taste, I don't care. If you can't lose yourself in that when it's on your stereo with the volume turned all the way up, then you'll never understand rock n' roll.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

From the Vault....

The Aliens
Live at Barfly, Camden
Rating: 5/5

The first gig I ever went to was The Beta Band at Shepherd's Bush Empire on their farewell tour, so having already seen Steve Mason's King Biscuit Time earlier in the year at Cargo (highlight: a crooner cover of 'Anarchy in the UK'), it seemed right to pay the other post-split musical project its due. Being underage and poor, a dumped refrigerator across the road neatly hid a bottle of vodka, and the evening was on track to be a good one.

What follows is rather a blur, but what I do remember was this: blissful psychedelic pop, an energetic audience and a band just finding their feet as a live entity. Gordon Anderson's vocals did not cut as well as when I saw them (years later) at Academy 3, but he was still ironing out the creases, so that's ok.

Highlights of the set were 'Setting Sun', 'Only Waiting', which descended into a huge jam session, and 'Robot Man', which had the whole crowd dancing. I, for my part, being underage decided play it inconspicuous and was robotting drunkenly on stage with the band. Whether or not they appreciated it, it's still the only stage invasion I've ever been a part of, and it seems fitting that it was in such a euphoric setting. I can honestly say that this was a gig I will remember for the rest of my life.

New Adventures in Hi-Fi
Warner Bros. Records
Rating: 4.5/5

From the beginning of the tom-dominated drum riff and percussive piano of the Dire Straits-esque 'How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us', it is evident that this album is going to bear a different feel to R.E.M's efforts up to this point. Written largely on the road, the album cover is a black and white picture showing nothing but barren desert as far as the horizon, the skyline neatly broken by an outcrop of rock in the centre. Indeed, this image both informs and frames the album; it is the context by which this expansive collection of songs can be understood.

The production of this album, along with the writing itself is a subtle departure from the radio-friendly of Monster and Automatic for the People. Whilst still being distinctly R.E.M.'s trademark jangle, somehow this is bigger, more substantial. The sound of a band lost in an empty landscape of nothingness and trying to occupy it with something of their own creation. In any case, it's a huge sound, more anthemic than before, and in an empirical sense at least measurably longer. The album is over sixty-five minutes long, and few of the songs clock in at less than five each. 'Leave', the album's highlight and centrepiece, is over seven minutes long alone. From 1:01 when the drums kick in it's an unstoppable landslide of a song, the incessant sample at its core keeping the mood tense while the music builds around it to a release that even today I feel in the same way that I did when I first heard it (as a hormonal fifteen-year old).

In 'E-Bow the Letter' and 'New Test Leper', Michael Stipe has two of his finest lyrical contributions to the band's repertoire- "when I tried to tell my story/they cut me off, took a break/I sat silent five commercials/I had nothing left to say", and in the more bluesy rock of 'So Fast, So Numb', 'Undertow', and 'Low Desert', Peter Buck manages three of the most confident guitar-led tracks as well. Between tracks like these and the more acoustic opener, 'How the West Was Won...', 'Bittersweet Me', and closer 'Electrolite' there's a lot of variation on offer, all held together by the overall vibe of the album. For a time as a teenager, this album sat next to Battle of Los Angeles by Rage, Metallica's Black Album, Radiohead's The Bends, Muse's Origin of Symmetry, Nevermind and Coldplay's Rush of Blood to the Head as how I defined rock music. Although my definition has changed since then, however I choose to define it this fantastic collection of songs still belongs there.

Grey Noise, White Lies
Engineer Records
Rating: 3.5/5

Exeter are a very frustrating band. After their Intra Venus EP, and in particular the strength of the songs 'Pris' and 'Guerra' which spent literally months at the top of my iTunes most played, I was delighted to hear they had a full-length planned. After hearing a preview in the form of the excellent 'Red Dress' featured on Dan Goldin's Exploding in Sound: Bands You Need To Know 2009 compilation, all Exeter had to do was produce an average album and I would have gone apeshit for it. What they did was produce the most underwhelming record of my year.

This is doubly disappointing for two reasons: firstly, the fact that the best songs on the album are truly sensational, and suggest how incredible this record could have been if it were more consistent; secondly, because there are enough of these tracks to make up an EP worth of songs. An EP that, I daresay, would garner an easy 5/5 score from me.

So anyway, to those of you that haven't heard of Exeter, the lowdown is this: a self-branded 'space rock' band that actually play alternative rock somewhere between Deftones, Failure and Radiohead, with some art-rock and proto-shoegaze pretensions. When it works, it's spine-chillingly good. When it doesn't, it's just a set of guitar chords with more meat than melody that fail to capture the imagination.

The EP worth of top-drawer tracks runs thus: 'Bittersweet Vanity', 'The Romantic', which has a chorus that actually might reach escape velocity, 'Red Dress', 'Window' and 'Numb'. 'Everyday Parade' gets an honourable mention, as I like six-track EPs, and although a solid 4/5 it's just good enough to sit with the above tracks. Essential listening: 'The Romantic' and 'Red Dress'. Better luck next time, guys.

Bomb The Music Industry!
Quote Unquote Records
Rating: 4/5

With a murmur of synthesisers and a bubbling of digital noise, Jeff Rosenstock makes his appearance on the record's opener, 'Cold Chillin', Cold Chillin'', playing acoustic guitar with his trademark heavy-handed bash. It's not long however before he's singing "your fucking cocaine party freaks me out" on the more skapunk 'Stuff That I Like' and we're back into familiar BTMI territory. "When I go out these days all I do is complain about the booming bass and the shitty DJ", he sings, and there's a hint that this record may turn out (as it indeed does) to be his most honest and assured yet. As an added bonus, Kepi Ghoulie and Sean Bonnette feature as guest vocalists on the record, besides the too-numerous-to-list cast of supporting musicians from all corners of the US punk scene.

Jeff knows that he's trading on the brand of himself as an artist, and frankly, a poet. Throughout
Scrambles in between songs like 'It Shits!!!' and '9/11 Fever!!!', more straightforward and fun punk numbers, there are crushingly autobiographical moments that capture his artistic and personal frustration. It is these, songs like 'Fresh Attitude, Young Body' and '25!' that really make the album, and set it apart from earlier efforts. I remember seeing him live last year on his UK tour- "I wanna thank everyone for coming out, and also for not asking me what I'm gonna do when I go back home. It's nearly the end of the tour and I don't know." This attitude, summed up by lines like "if you don't find a steady job now/if you don't find somebody to love now/you will die freezing cold and alone" from 'Fresh Attitude..." carry the full force of authenticity that often only punk can really deliver.

This negativity belies the fact that the best song on the album, the crazed '25!' is simply a psychotic, triumphant ode to being that age. Despite its (at times) quite depressing lyrics; "receipts and cards tumble out of my pocket/to the floor of the station, I still don't have a wallet... I'm 25! I don't learn from my mistakes/I make them again and again and again", like the album it maintains a sense of fun that stops it all from being too heavy going. It's the sound of a man coming to terms with adulthood and looking forward to growing old disgracefully, and it's fucking awesome.

Cosmic Egg
Island Records
Rating: 4/5

Whilst the two bands have very little in common musically besides presumably the shared heritage of all rock bands, Wolfmother appear, with their second album Cosmic Egg to have followed a similar path to the Mancunian space-rockers. Let me elaborate: like Amplifier's self titled debut, Wolfmother's debut (also self-titled) was predominantly riff-based and only featured passages of chords for effect or to break up the riffing. The extent to which this is exactly musically true is a little questionable, but in terms of general vibe, I think most would agree with 'riff heavy'. By contrast, like Insider, Cosmic Egg is more chord based, and as such marks a subtle but noticeable break with their work to date. However, where Insider ran aground on the change, Egg (possibly due to the addition of a rhythm guitarist) is a natural development from Wolfmother, and all the better for it.

The standout tracks are the 'Houses of the Holy' like stomp of 'White Feather', the towering chords of 'Sundial' , the half Zwan, half Muse stadium rock of 'Far Away' and QOTSA growl of '10,000 Feet'. In terms of genre and style it's more of the same fare- 1970s revivalism, and all done very well. As a result of the chords, at times it begins to drift a little into Queens of the Stone Age territory, and admittedly there is something of 'No One Knows' from Songs for the Deaf about the title track, 'Cosmic Egg', but beyond that, it's nothing that detracts from the album. The same flair and explosive guitar soloing has stayed, along with Andrew Stockdale's Robert Plant-esque vocals. At the end of the day, you already know what you're in for before you listen to it, and so in all likelihood whether you're going to like it or not. Consequently, there's only one truly important question to ask: is it as good as their last album? Answer: yes.

The Mekkits!
The Inland Sea
Grizzly Bear Records
Rating: 1/5

For the first time since the Codeine Velvet Club record (and possibly to an even greater degree) I was actually embarrassed about the prospect of people hearing what I was listening to. The Wurzels is a name that springs to mind. I’m not an expert in sea shanties or whatever sub-genre of folk this band falls into, but I did live in Cornwall for a few years. With this (dubious) qualification under my belt I can say with some authority that I am mystified by this band, and even more mystified by their fans.

I can only concl
ude that the fanbase for this band must be composed of indie hipsters who are looking for the furthest logical extension of the term ‘alternative’. I’ve certainly not heard anything like this EP all year, but for me that’s a good thing. These are clearly competent musicians, and there must be a market for this somewhere or I wouldn’t be holding this EP in my hand, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like it. If you’re looking for a band that take the balladry of The Coral, add to it folk aspirations and an aesthetic of stereotypical coastal backwardness, then look no further.
Black America EP
Rating: 2/5

Without knowing what to expect, I was rather blown away by the opening title track for this new EP by Oddyssey. Despite appearing to leap headlong into the Indie-rock aesthetic, it continually surprises with neat punk/grunge breaks, a tight chorus and even some great guitar noodling at around the 3:15 mark. By contrast, he second track, ‘Companion’, sounds a little bit too Abba to really be interesting to me, and burnt itself out without leaving any impression.

‘Jalan’, then is a welcome relief. Though I doubt that they’ve heard of it, it sounds like the modal guitar experimentations of contemporary Steve Vai albums, and the harmonic minor strings and riffing are unavoidably catchy. I can’t help thinking that more could have been done with the guitar parts, but it’s a great song nonetheless.

From the big chords that herald its arrival, I had hoped that the closer, ‘Marching Orders’ would be a return to the form of the opener. What the song actually sounds like is a verse of sub Flogging Molly/ Dropkicks snare-heavy quasi-punk followed by an inexplicably ‘disco-Indie’ chorus only kept from sounding like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs b-side by the energetic yelps of the singer. If you like the kind of Indie rock where they insist on having ‘art’ somewhere in their genre description, you’ll love this. If that doesn’t appeal, then just satisfy yourself by getting the title track. It’s ace.

Micah P. Hinson
All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers
Full Time Hobby Records
Rating: 1/5

This album is divided into two Volumes, Volume 1 being acoustic tracks and Volume 2 being full-band tracks. The album itself is comprised wholly of covers. Quite simply, this was an album that didn’t need to be made. For the most part, his voice does not suit the songs he attempts, and insofar as making them his own, he fails and the songs become just morbid attempts at folk for the sake of folk.

The electric volume, more my thing, was even more dire; the cover of ‘Listen To Me’ by Buddy Holly actually had me laughing, whilst ‘In The Pines’ brought nothing new to the original, and lacked the conviction even of the recent Nirvana cover. The instrumentation seems to ape early Jesus and Mary Chain, though it is hard to tell why this might be the desired effect. Given the relative quality of his original folk compositions, it is frankly baffling to me why Micah would want to release this collection at all.

Thankfully, the album ends on a positive note. On ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, he sticks to his register and a more appropriate vocal delivery. Dropping his faux-crooner trappings and attempts at Cash- like hoarseness this rendition relies on the talent of the backing band to deliver a stirring rendition of the classic. Unfortunately, by this point it is already too little, too late to redeem the album.

2009: A year in Manchester gigs

Right, so may have time at some point to write some of these up- some are gigs I've done for HV (in which case they are already on there), and the others aren't (vice-versa)

Non HV:

School of Seven Bells- Night & Day, February- 5/5

Bomb the Music Industry!- Tiger Lounge, February- 4/5

The Secret Machines- Ruby Lounge, February- 4/5

The Butterfly Effect- Roadhouse, May- 4/5

My Vitriol- Barfly (Liverpool), May- 4/5

Lemuria- Retro Bar, June- 4/5

The cream of the HV crop:

Alberta Cross w/Bicycle Theives- Ruby Lounge, November:

J. Mascis and the Fog w/Dead Confederate- Moho Live, December:

Sad Day for Puppets (supporting A Place to Bury Strangers)- Moho Live, November:

Amplifier's Eternity 10th Anniversary show- Academy 3, December.

You can check out the last issue of HV here:

First Day

Ok, so that's quite a prolific output for one day. I'll get on to some new music at some point but for the moment I've got HV reviews to do, exams in a few days and a Wolfmother show to review on Sunday for HV. Continuing the current trend of 'Albums that I fucking love' may result in Massive Attack's Mezzanine and Team Sleep by Team Sleep getting a write up tomorrow or this weekend, depends if I have time.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Loved Ones
Build and Burn
Fat Wreck Chords
Rating: 4/5

With their debut album, Keep Your Heart, the Loved Ones became my favourite punk band. Having caught them at Reading 2007 (receiving a cut and a black eye in a circle pit into the bargain), I heard 'The Bridge' off the new album and ordered it as soon as I got home. So what to say about it? Keep Your Heart was always going to be hard to beat (my favourite punk album, and amongst my favourite albums of all time): it had not a single bad song on it, and at least four incredible ones- 'Suture Self', 'Jane', 'Living (Will Get You Dead)' and 'Player Hater Anthem'.

What then does Build and Burn add? There is only one bad song: the closer, 'I Swear'. As on Keep Your Heart there are four brilliant songs; 'Pretty Good Year', 'The Inquirer', 'The Bridge', and 'Louisiana'. The addition of Dave Walsh to the line up on lead guitar also adds a new dimension to their sound that is most evident on single 'The Bridge', far and away the best song on the album.

The arrangements throughout are uncluttered, and the chord sequences are well put together. It's all very catchy, but not in a way that feels affected, and as always Dave Hause's vocals cut through the mix with a forcefulness and power that sets this band apart. It'd be easy for them to slide into angsty nonsense like a lot of punk bands, but the lyrics for the most part are actually pretty good, and show a degree of development from their previous effort. "Are we paranoid, or basically ok?" asks Hause on 'The Inquirer'. Probably. You've managed another great album Dave, and I can't wait for the next.

School of Seven Bells
Ghostly International
Rating 5/5

When Benjamin Curtis left the Secret Machines to concentrate on his side project, School of Seven Bells, I took an instant dislike to it. Reasoning: how could it ever be as good as the Secret Machines were? Consequently, it was only shortly before the release of this, their debut album that I finally gave SVIIB a serious listen. Let's be honest here, it's a fucking great record; possibly the only way Ben Curtis could have gone 'up' from his amazing work on TSM's Ten Silver Drops. Whilst TSM's new self-titled album had its moments, it was the sound of a band in the doldrums. Here we have the sound of a band in full flight.

The vocals, provided b
y the Deheza twins (formerly of On!Air!Library!) are impeccable, and in 'Wired for Light', a My Bloody Valentine influenced tune with overtly eastern- sounding leads (think maybe an electric sitar imitating the call to prayer... with delay) they have managed to write a contender for my favourite song ever. EVER. Without a live drummer, they have the potential pitfall of being let down by boring electronic beats, but once again Curtis (presumably) comes to the rescue: the drummer of 90s psych band Tripping Daisy, under his guidance only once (on the over-long Sempiternal/Amaranth) does the music drag.

For the most part, despite being drifting vocal melodies over a virtual sea of guitar wash and synthesisers, the music has an unexpected drive to it, and all the best songs on the record have this in common-namely single 'My Cabal', as well as 'Chain', 'Half Asleep' and 'Connjur'. In fact, there are more potential singles on this album than not, and the quality and the consistency of the songwriting is frankly astonishing. It's very hard to come up with anything that doesn't draw instant comparison to anything else, and besides the obvious namechecking that comes with the 'shoegazing' scene (My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins etc. etc.) in all honesty SVIIB do have a sound all of their own. Not only that, but it's original too, and you can quote me on that.
Daniel J Nixon
Turn This Stone
Rating: 5/5

The first five out of five record review I ever gave was for Daniel J Nixon's first demo, which had 'Turn This Stone' on the A and 'Matilda, Please' on the B. If you want to see that review, it's somewhere on High Voltage. Here, I'm gonna deal with the other three tracks.

As on his demo, we're still solidly in a minor key, and Daniel is sticking to his guns, relying
on simple, evocative lyrics and his strained, gentle voice to suggest the emotions he's getting at, rather than bashing you around the head and shouting 'FEEL THIS NOW!' As a result, they are easy to connect with and lose yourself in.

'Hide and Seek' is on a si
milar par to his original demo offerings, as is 'The Big Idea'. Just when I'm thinking that the only drawback of this EP is that you have to be in a certain state of mind to like it, we get to the final track, 'First Snow of the Winter'. Chord-wise, there's some development in the right direction and a subtle change in tone that allows for a faintly hopeful end to the set. Needless to say, it's welcome, and it's equally ingratiating to see that his first demo wasn't a fluke. These songs are a pleasure to listen to, and if that's not the point of rock n' roll, then what the fuck is?
Charlie Barnes
No Offenkk
Pipco Collective
Rating: 4/5

Ok, so there's a pattern to the ratings on here at the moment, but that's because right now I can't be bothered to write about something that doesn't genuinely excite me. Hence: Charlie Barnes- live his show is a very exciting prospect indeed. I was lucky enough to catch him supporting Amplifier at the Academy last month, and got my hands on this, his debut EP.

After a burst of digital noise, the EP opens with a flourish on 'Oradour'. On the record gone are the overdubbed loops and ten-part vocal harmonies, and in is a thicker, more orchestral instrumental feel. On songs like 'This Boy Blind' there is a more up-tempo approach that is more indicative of his live sound, comparable to other live electronic bands like the excellent Fears ('This Boy Blind' at times does resemble their 'My English Heart' , though I should stress that this is a compliment, not a criticism).

The closing track, 'Architects' is a suitably slow-burning ballad (again showcasing his considerable vocal talent), but it's track three, 'Geekk' that is the show-stealer. It's got a catchy piano and glockenspiel hook, combined with simple, short vocal melody lines and the glitchy electronic percussion that is his trademark.

The whole set of songs are obviously underpinned by Charlie's tremendous voice, which is somewhere in the Jeff Buckley/ Matt Bellamy school of singing. It's a relatively modern style of delivery, which suits the freshness of the instrumentation supporting it. Perhaps there's nothing truly original left to be done with music these days, but if people like Charlie Barnes stop pushing the boundaries we'll never find out if that's true or not.

For the interested:
SPV (Reissue)
Rating: 5/5

There are some songwriters who make me so jealous as to actually be sick to my stomach. Off the top of my head, Matt Bellamy is one, Thom Yorke is one, Sean Bonnette (of the Andrew Jackson Jihad) is one, and now Sel Belamir is one. At the end of the day, if you aren’t moved to something by the lyrics “I sleep deeply every night/ in a world that’s better than real life/ I’ve found a hiding place/ beneath a dirty blanket of distorted bass”, then rock n’ roll is clearly not for you.

This is roc
k poetry as it was meant to be done- sex, drugs, decadence, transcendence: “yes now I’m back from the dead/ gonna turn it up louder inside your head/ with the sound of many days/ when we could feel the cheap drugs squeezing through our veins/ like a million girls and boys/ I’m just another grainy brick in a wall of noise.” In fact, in the opener ‘Motorhead’, Sel himself gives a hint as to why this is a great album when he sings, “now music fills my empty bones/ well now sometimes it seems it’s the only place I’ve left to go.”

Obviously the bank of effects that have been used in this recording go some way to creating the total sonic absorption that this record offers, but lest we forget: this is a three-piece band, and not only that, but one who cut their chops live after years of touring. Make no mistake, whilst they are offering you a packaged escape here, we are still dealing with an actual band, not some abstract entity like some leftfield musical groups.

Nowhere else is this more evident than with Belamir’s voice itself; at once immediate and powerful, the only times
it fails the music is when a more restrained tone is required. He truly only seems to catch his stride when really projecting his voice, but since the majority of people that buy this album will be listening out for the riff-heavy rock of ‘Airbourne’, ‘Panzer’ or singles ‘The Consultancy’ or ‘Neon’, this is unlikely to detract from the listening experience for them.
Rating: 4/5

Eternity, a retrospective mini-album of material from the "proto-genesis of the band" (in the words of frontman Sel Belamir) was released as a ten-year anniversary present for the fans, giving them some new material (however old) while they wait for next year's Octopus double album. This is one of those records that 'grows on you' in the classic sense; at a first listen a couple of the tracks from this will grab you, but it's not until the fifth or the sixth that the noises on the stereo finally coalesce into something coherent. By that point, needless to say, you are hooked.

Starting the show is 'Amplified 99', a fast- paced rocker that lays the foundations for their first-album single 'The Consultancy'. Even at this early stage, in the middle eight the trio show their desire not to be overtaken by their grunge roots, and a hint of their later, more soundscape-y offerings is suggested. Other tracks like 'Area 51' and 'My Corrosion' (which bears a slight resemblance to 'In My Body' from the CR-04 disc of the Smashing Pumpkins' last album, Machina II) sound considerably more developed, and are probably from the cutting floor of their debut, Amplifier.

The last two tracks are heavily indebted to last-album Soundgarden, and in particular, 'Number One Son' is heavily in thrall to 'Boot Camp', the closer of Down on the Upside. A very Dave Gilmour-style guitar solo completes the song, but forgetting its heritage it's worth saying that the solo is pretty sensational in its own right.

Possibly the most interesting track is 'The Ways of Amplifier', which samples the drum loop from 'Inertia Creeps' by Massive Attack (from the seminal Mezzanine), and will give fans a whole new perspective on the influences and song writing technique of the band. It is more than just a rip-off or cover version; from the basic hook a new song is built, remarkably something even darker, and the waves of distortion serve to give it a similar claustrophobic, sinister air to the original, but arrived at by a different route. All in all, an interesting and highly listenable collection, and certainly a fan must.

Sad Day for Puppets
When You Tell Me That You Love Me
Sonic Cathedral
Rating: 4/5

The new single from Swedish psych-pop band Sad Day for Puppets is a re-working of a bonus track off their debut album, Unknown Colours, and sticks firmly to the formula that has worked so well for them thus far. Like the best tracks from the album ('Marble Gods', 'Last Night', 'Romans', 'Shiny Teeth and Sharpened Claws'), it's very fast, upbeat and has great interplay between simple lead guitar lines and great vocal hooks. It's heavily indebted to psych-rock and does sound a lot like early Ride, but it's fantastic nonetheless.

Like the A-side, the B-side, 'Withering Petals and Dust' is a reworking of a previously available track, and again like the A-side, it's a great improvement. This version has a constant bass line that holds together the track with an insistency and urgency that was missing before. Above the mess of bass and distorted guitars, Anna Eklund's vocals soar with effortless grace, and the fact that the lyrics are pretty good almost doesn't matter. She could be singing anything and it would still sound just as beautiful.
Supported by I Concur
Relentless Garage, London
Rating: 4/5

After a quick couple of pints in the Whetherspoon's around the corner, I arrived at the venue fractionally after eight o' clock to see two familiar stacks of amps on the stage, and no support band drumkit. Hm. Now, I'm prepared to allow for human error: earlier in the year I missed Japandroids' set supporting Sad Day for Puppets and A Place to Bury Strangers because of a mix-up over door times when I was reviewing, but a look at my ticket says "Doors- 7:30pm". So where were I Concur?

Ah well. After quite a long wait, Swervedriver took the stage, looking admittedly younger than I was expecting. I'd heard good things about this reuinion, and as always it was nice not to be let down. I remember going to Reading to see the Smashing Pumpkins reunion and being shall we say, quite disappointed (if you listen carefully on live footage or a recording of the set, in between two songs you can hear me swearing at my favourite band).

Playing a crowd-pleasing set heavy on singles and conspicuously all available on the recent Jugger
naut Rides Collection (which sadly was until the recent reissues the only way of getting hold of much of Swervedriver's back catalogue) save from 'Girl on a Motorbike', the boys put in a cracking performance, even joking when the balloons on the ceiling comically failed to fall on the crowd. Franklin and Hartridge don't ever move very far from their pedalboards, and do spend most of the gig looking at their feet, but they move around when they can- just don't expect any Matt Bellamy style theatrics. Highlights were 'The Other Jesus', and the left-right combination of '99th Dream', the song of the night, and 'Never Lose That Feeling', which understandably had the crowd going by the second chord.

Coming on for a quick encore, it was clear how this band managed to make their name with the song 'Son of Mustang Ford', as live its almost Stooges-like thrashing makes a mockery of the album version. My only complaint of the set was with the closer, 'Kill the Superheroes', which was dragged out into an extended jam. Although the drumming was excellent, the guitar parts just weren't that interesting. This band clearly has spent much of its career working on their compositions and the interplay between the two guitars in their songs, and perhaps this can be shown by their relative inability to improvise. That said, it's not going to stop me going to see them again as soon as I get the chance. '99th Dream' alone was worth the ticket price.

Down on the Upside
A&M Records
Rating: 4.5/5

With a Soundgarden reuinion now on the cards for the new year, I found myself re-listening to their last album, 1996's Down on the Upside, which not only produced a great album, but resulted in fatal tensions that split the band. The writing impetus was shifted from Cornell/Thayil to Cornell/Shepherd for much of the album, and consequently it is a more restrained affair; some of the riffing of previous efforts remains, but there is a much more conscious drive towards coherent song writing and development of structures. Although Thayil lamented the loss of influence (and granted, 'Never the Machine Forever', his sole track, is a great song), being limited to playing leads forces him to really push the envelope when putting his stamp on the record, and from the intro to 'Pretty Noose' to the explosive solo on 'Tighter and Tighter', it is clear that his playing has never sounded better.

There are some throwaway tracks; 'Ty Cobb' in particular is all filler, no killer, and single 'Blow up the Outside World' seems to be a conscious effort to write a 'Black Hole Sun II', but that aside they also drop the awesome fast rocker 'No Attention', laid-back 'Dusty', 'Switch Opens' and incredible album closer 'Boot Camp', as well as the afore-mentioned 'Never the Machine Forever' and 'Tighter and Tighter'. The highlight, however, is clearly 'Burden in my Hand'. Beginning with an acoustic introduction, it quickly moves into a driving, almost liquid chord passage that carries the listener along at a frantic pace; Swervedriver, take note: this is music for motion. With its verse it seems to presage the rapid, bass-led pulse of Muse's 'Stockholm Syndrome', but for all its differences to the Soundgarden canon that has come before, with Cornell's reverb laden voice in the mix it is unmistakably Soundgarden.

So, last album: best album, at least in my humble opinion. But this doesn't necessarily guarantee that the reunion is a good idea. For all of its atmospherics and development, it still alienated a lot of fans in much the same way that Machina did for the Smashing Pumpkins. They also reformed, and Billy Corgan's solution to the problem was to try and create a Mellon-Collie bastardisation with bits and pieces of Machina- and Adore-era Pumpkins
(and even an unwelcome hint of Queen) thrown into the mix. The result? But for a few great moments ('Bleeding the Orchid', 'Doomsday Clock', the solo from 'That's the Way') the album was a disappointment, and a let-down to those that believed the band had called it a day on a high. Let's hope that Soundgarden don't make the same mistakes the Pumpkins did then; a Down on the Upside II would be far more welcome than a Badmotorfinger II in my book.

The Old Romantic Killer Band
The Swan With Two Necks
Bad Sneakers Records
Rating: 5/5

What’s this, I hear you cry? A five out of five record review, for an album that clocks in at scarcely twenty-two minutes? Bear with me guys, and maybe you just might have your mind blown. I know the singing sounds just a little bit like Chris Cornell, and I know the guitar parts lie somewhere between Black Keys and Nirvana, but it is so much more than both.

The first track, ‘Girl, You Have All The Fun’, begins the album with a crooning “Girl, you have all the fun/girl, you have all the fun…/messin’ around with someone/ it’s not fun/ and he’s in love” before the distortion kicks in and the band starts rocking. From there on, I challenge you to dislike them. Yeah, it’s a skinny ginger guy from Leeds singing, not somebody from the American South, but isn’t that just more rock n’ roll? Throw away the pretensions, for these guys are doing exactly what they want, and doing it well. Better than well.

The second song is more stylistically similar to Californian Indie-punkers Lemuria (minus female singer), but by ‘Trouble Causer’, we’re back on track, complete with hoarse accusational cries of “how do you call yourself a man/ when there’s a clump of her hair on the floor?/ …you cause all the trouble”. Track Six, ‘Things to Come’, even has moments of Incubus-like pop rock refinement about it, and (dare I say it) first album Silverchair. It’s got that post- grunge ‘raw’ thing going on that you hear about in so many record reviews, but where those bands were affected this is the real deal.

It sounds, for all the quality of recording (which is admittedly high) like it was tracked in a basement on reels of tape made out of old no-brand whisky bottle labels. The thing is we’re in the twenty-first century; if you put some money behind a release, it’s going to sound good. If you can make a passable quality album in a bedroom with a laptop then it stands to reason that anything coming out of a studio should sound as crisp as this. That said there’s still something brutal about this release, something unheard for many years. There’s too much treble on some guitar tracks, sometimes too much mid on the distortion parts. Occasionally the cymbals threaten to wash out the entire affair. At these times even the sharp insistent pounding of the bass drum cannot keep the feeling at bay that the whole recording is about to crash to the ground and lay there burning.

This is a good thing; it’s why Raw Power is a great album as well, and it seems an obvious comparison to make. That rush just before all hell breaks loose is what the better moments of this album capture, and as someone who’s seen this band live, that is clearly not only intentional, but appropriate. For anyone that’s been wondering where the spirit of rock n’ roll went, know this: it hasn’t disappeared. It’s just a little-known secret called The Old Romantic Killer Band.

The Beginning...

Ok, this is basically a page so I can write about music and stuff that I don't get to normally. I'll post live reviews and record reviews of stuff that I've seen and I like.

A little about me:
I'm a contributor to High Voltage (, a zine in Manchester, I play guitar in a band ( and I'm the co-chair of Biko Records ( at the University of Manchester. This blog is named after the Manchester band Amplifier's song 'What is Music' off Insider.