Wednesday, 31 March 2010

I know this blog is normally about music, but I had to just write a quick bit on this book I read recently by Joey Comeau: part Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, part Fight Club, it's an epistolary novel based around a series of CV cover letters.

Like the X-Files, there are the stand-alone installments, but it's all part of a grand meta-narrative involving heartbreak, a car crash and the narrator's brother. It's at times heart-wrenchingly sad; by implying rather than dealing in specifics, Comeau lets your imagination fill in the gaps, though he is clear about the emotions on display.

Without ruining it I can't say any more, save that in a bizarrely direct way (subtly through the narrative, as well as agressively and bluntly in the words of the narrator) it's one of the most life-affirming books I've ever read. It's short, sweet and beautiful.

Also, in other news:

Charlie Barnes is releasing his album, Geekk, on the 30th May in Huddersfield. It's going to be a bloody ace night, so make sure you go down.

The aforementioned gentleman was on Salford City Radio yesterday, and played a few tunes. It's also worth listening to the show he played on, because it appears to be awesome:

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Black Market Serotonin
Something From Nothing
Distant Earth Records
Rating: 5/5

Fuck yeah! FUCK YEAH! Finally a band that smash together all of my favourite bands and create something new and exciting. Very exciting. This album, supposedly a demo, was recorded by multi-instrumentalist Andrew Thomas on his own, and if it's a sample of things to come then things are going to be fucking insane, to put it mildly. So what do Black Market Serotonin sound like? Ok, so take the arpeggiators and synths from Vex Red's Start With a Strong and Persistent Desire album, add to that a sprinkle of Porcupine Tree, vocals that are in the Buckley school, but nestled somewhere between Yorke and Wardner, and top it with guitars that are chordy like Vex, but as aggressive and thrashy as early Muse.

The album itself has moments of filler as well as brilliance. The prog meanderings of 'Eyes Open' soon descend into something faintly tedious, and the vocals on opener 'Comatose', as well as closing track 'Something From Nothing, Pt. V' could have probably done with more work as they come over rather weak.

Enough of the shortcomings, though. What I really want to talk about are the highs, because they are very high indeed. 'Something From Nothing, Pt. IV', is very 'Wedding Nails' by Porcupine Tree, and 'Purify' is very reminiscent of 'Anaesthetise' off Fear of a Blank Planet. Neither of these observations are criticisms. 'Something From Nothing, Pt. II', is a track when all the influences can be clearly heard, and it shape shifts through many forms before ending with some massive riffing a la Incubus in 'Leech', or maybe early Muse (I'm thinking of 'Futurism', 'Sober' or 'Dead Star' here). In 'Irons in the Fire' the feel is more 'Stockholm Syndrome', with fast chord slashes riding a wave of reverb and synth backing. Needless to say, it's fucking awesome.

All of these tracks are great, but it's 'DeadByFiveOClock' that is the show-stealer. It's so fucking good it makes me sick to my stomach as a musician that I've never written anything close to this good. Starting with a 'Closest'-esque synth arpeggio loop, some clean chords come in before all fucking hell breaks loose. Verses are kept aggressive with distorted vocals, and I defy anyone to not lose the plot by the meltdown-of-shredding lead break. As soon as it's over you want to listen to it again. And again. And again. In a fair world, these guys would go far. This isn't a fair world, but fuck me I wish them the best, because we can't afford talent like this to go to waste.

Why are you still reading this? Get your dumb arse on iTunes and download the album! NOW!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

What is music?

The chord change in Lemuria's 'Lipstick' off Get Better that happens at 2:28.

I'll leave you with that because I'm way too busy to write any proper entries for a while. Upcoming HV stuff of mine: Frank Turner live at Academy 1, Frank Turner Interview, North Atlantic Oscillation live at Ruby Lounge, Tunng live at Band on the Wall, and Tunng Interview.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Skinny Boys
Two Days Old/ Brought it Back
Rating: 3/5

Alright, so this is a re-recording of 'Two Days Old', which I reviewed a couple of months back. Basically, aside from some minor studio adjustments and EQ stuff, it's the same track and my comments for it stand.

The b-side however is where the change is most evident; a more stand-out track, it's an alt-rock song that plays to the band's strengths. Good interplay between the guitars and a much more interesting vocal line in both verse and chorus mean that it steals the show. So long as Skinny Boys can pull more songs out of the bag like this one then I'll keep watching them, and I'd advise you to do the same.

My Albatross

Live and Live Lonely/ Rich Man's Daughter
Blue Cat Records
Rating: 4/5

So here we are: a double 'A' of the first two singles by exceptional Manchester alt-folk rock band My Albatross. 'Live and Live Lonely', a ukulele-led number driven by a persistent snare motif is the one that really sticks in the mind, with Dave's lead vocals winding their way pleasurably around the instruments. Impeccable vocal harmonies and a gentle climax round off the track into a cut that is frankly nothing short of infectious.

'Rich Man's Daughter', the 'AA', offers an insight into the other half of their sound- with guitars at the fore, it's somewhere in the region of Brakes or Crimea in feel, with Who-style flourishes deep in the mix. My only criticism would be that it ends rather too soon- there's a middle eight with a nice Radiohead-style octave chord solo riff, but more could have been made of the ending. Perhaps. I think given that I tend towards unnecessarily long instrumental outros, it's probably a good sign for My Albatross that this is something I picked up on.

Overall this pair of tracks display impressively tight songwriting, superb vocals and a subtle use of simple melodies which too many bands seem to eschew these days in favour of overcomplication or simple atonality. Not the most original perhaps, but certainly refreshing to hear.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Cool shit

So Biko Records is finally getting on its feet... our launch night was this Tuesday gone and featured Dutch Uncles, Charlie Barnes and Optional Wallace. I got drafted in to do the lighting after Charlie's set, but it was still all pretty ace (and to be honest getting my hands on a pro lighting desk was just cool beyond words). Upstairs at the pre-launch pre-lash we also had Johnny Gwynn, Unconscious Jungle and My Albatross, most of whom have been featured on here at some point.

Anyway, I will write about that as soon as I have time as well as doing a quickie of the re-recorded Skinny Boys single.

Tomorrow I face a great dilemma: I think I'm down to review Blood Red Shoes for Noize Makes Enemies, but I haven't heard anything about it for a while and Alberta Cross (who I love) are playing at Night & Day (which I love). Do I gamble?

Ach, the stress of amateur reviewing.

In other news, building/bodging (to steal a word from Scrapheap Challenge) a professional studio together for Biko is going surprisingly well, and I have to admit that the prospect of having a free-to-use studio with us as the gatekeepers does give me a semi. But there you go.

If you have nothing to do this Friday (12th March) I suggest you go check out Alberta Cross- if they are anything as good as they were at Ruby Lounge last year then it won't be a show to miss.

Jake and I also came up with a draft of the Biko contract, and it's so fucking funny I'm gonna post it on here:

The Contract

We, the undersigned, agree to the following:

I. Working Relations
- To act in a professional manner at all times. To be prompt to sessions/gigs and to be respectful to all staff involved. [1]
- Failure to inform the label of cancellations or changes:
- For recording sessions the label will require at least 36 hours’ notice to schedule a time change or cancellation.
- For live events the label will require at least two weeks’ notice for a cancellation.
- Failure to comply with these rules may result in a termination of the contract.

II. Fees
- Recording sessions are free to the band or artist.
- Biko Records will never operate a ‘pay to play’ policy.
- If an artist is to be paid for a show, the deal will be arranged in advance. Unless specified, artists play for free.

III. Artistic Rights and Copyright
- Artists and bands will retain all artistic rights to their recorded music, up to and including the right to remove it from the Biko catalogue.
- If a band signs to Biko, they have total artistic freedom, with the understanding that if the music turns out shit, it won’t be released.
- Biko Records will own the copyright for the catalogued release. The band will be able to take constituent music and use it for a future project of their own, but Biko will still be able to exercise power of copyright unless the artist specifically requests that the release be deleted from the Biko catalogue.
- Bands can opt out from this contract at any time with no penalties.

IV. 21 Day Rule
- The 21-Day Rule does not apply for Manchester-based bands working with Biko Records. Fuck the 21-day rule.

V. Profits
- From every release, twenty-five percent of the profits will go directly to the charity Student Action.
- From every release, seventy-five percent of the profits will go directly to the band or artist, to distribute as they see fit.
- Biko Records will receive no profit from any release.

Sign Here:

....................................... .......................................

....................................... .......................................

....................................... .......................................

[1] We do this shit for free, so be nice to us. Make us tea when we ask. :D

A motto has also been suggested:

Biko Records:
Music for music's sake!


Sunday, 7 March 2010

Leavin' Home: Johnny Gwynn and Picture Palace

Live at Nelly's Bar
Rating: 5/5

So, the line-up last night also included Dan Cropper and Dan Nixon (see elsewhere on this blog). I'm a champion of both, so obviously any night that started with them has to be a good one.

Third up was Johnny Gwynn, who with some confident crowd banter, punk attitude and a harmonica (a la Dylan) has won me over as a fan. With fired enthusiasm he threw out a set of songs including 'Swagger' and highlight 'Leavin' Home' that set him just that little bit apart from the majority of acoustic artists. Unlike say Dan Nixon, who relies on honest lyrics and emotive vocal delivery, Johnny goes for a more classicly folk approach, and vibe rather than emotion is clearly the order of the day. Luckily he can pull it off, and it's refreshing to have a more storytelling vibe amongst a clutch of artists (however good) that are largely concerned with personal issues (read: girl issues) in every song.

Finally the crowd drew in close for Picture Palace, who with a lack of suitable equipment played unplugged on the bar's pool table. Their three-part harmonies and catchy piano riffing fleshed out their songs into something that felt perhaps more substantial than their acoustic three-piece tag might suggest. It all went down well, and the atmosphere by the end was as good as any gig I've ever been to. After a clamour for an encore the band obliged, cracking out a hilarious version of 'Hit Me Baby One More Time', before finishing to a chorus of laughter. All in all a fantastic night, and one I'm glad I had the chance to attend.

Check out: Johnny Gwynn (, Dan Cropper, Dan Nixon (links below) and Picture Palace (

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Renegades (Feeder)

With Lights Go Blue

Ruby Lounge, Manchester


Rating: 4/5

As I got into the venue, I was confronted by what sounded at first like a competent electro-indie band warming the boards for Feeder. When I got to the stage, I was surprised to find that this band, Lights Go Blue, only have two members- singer/guitarist/synth player Alex, and singer/drummer/synth player Raj. The former has a generic indie vocal delivery, but interestingly the latter (besides being an British Asian rock musician, which is always damn gratifying to see- apart from Som and Ravi in My Vitriol, who is there? Anyway…) sounds more like Davey Havoc from AFI. On the record, these guys kind of lose what makes them dynamic- the fact it’s just two of them. Luckily, genre-wise they are nestled squarely between indie and emo so even if it’s not my thing I don’t doubt they’ll go far.

And now the main attraction, Feed- er, I mean Renegades (cough). With a new drummer (Karl Brazil) onboard after Mark Richardson’s return to Skunk Anansie, they have decided to adopt the Renegades moniker and play some shows before returning to the studio. Consequently, most of the setlist was made up of new songs, played as a three-piece. The highlights were ‘White Lines’ and ‘Home’, which I sincerely hope make the new album. My maths may be poor, but with a main set that lasted 45 minutes and a two-song encore, it seems likely that the crowd was party to the new record in its entirety.

At times, the trio were surprisingly sloppy, and at the beginning of one song had to start again three times. This is sort of to be expected with a new drummer, but when Grant admitted they’d only had time for three practices my first thought was “well sort your act out then”. Their set was in spite of this strong for the most part, and plenty of jumping around the small Ruby Lounge stage combined with some zealous fans made for a great atmosphere. Their new material harks back to first album Feeder, coming across very drop-D-fuzz-pedal grunge, which is alright by me.

Introducing a ‘cover’ and dedicating it to their lost drummer Jon Lee, the band played an incendiary version of ‘Tangerine’, the band’s first single from Polythene. When they encored, Grant introduced ‘an oldie’ before launching into ‘Sweet 16’, the opener from their first EP, Swim, and causing a reaction that with a fractionally lower crowd barrier would have been a stage invasion. Closing on an extended ‘Descend’, again from Swim, the band departed, but not before high-fiving the majority of the crowd and giving out all the drinks they had on stage. A lot of people see Feeder as a singles-only band, or, as a friend of mine once described, “a five-out-of-ten band- you couldn’t listen to a whole album”. I disagree; for a time they were one of my favourite bands, and after a show like tonight, I can remember why.