Thursday, 30 September 2010

I know it's been a bit quiet lately, but that's mainly because I've been busy with Fresher's (Welcome?) Week up here in Manchester and a load of dissertation crap that means I actually get to have an honours degree when I graduate. 

I have, however, had the time to do interviews with Exit Calm (online on HV now) and Dinosaur Pile-Up (erm, maybe in the next couple of days), and am probably (fingers crossed) going to be interviewing The Pineapple Thief and Dutch Uncles shortly. 

Anyway, there we are, excuses made. I thought I'd post an article I never quite finished (mainly due to Student Direct's Travel section biting the dust). Yes, I know it's hackish, but that was kind of the point. Why bother writing unless you make it fun?

Morocco for £300, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love bread and water.

Call me Ishmael. Some weeks ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me in England, I thought I would travel about a little and see the North African part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get backpacking as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the road. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the journey as me.
    There you are, proof that I’m not the only one who gets restless when he’s at a loose end. To quote Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People, “if you get it, great, if you don’t… then you should probably read more.” Anyway, what follows is the tale of what happens when you have no money, two weeks with nothing to do, a 1999 Sony CD Walkman, a handful of prog-rock albums, and a propensity for getting food poisoning. Seeing as taking to a ship isn’t really the done or possible thing, I figured Morocco was as good as anywhere. The budget? A mere £300, including flights, and to ensure my fiscal accuracy, I determined that my accountant should accompany me.
    “Where’s our taxi, man?” my accountant asked, as we left the cool mountain stream of the airport for the dead heat of the Marrakech evening. Turned out, of course, that we’d walked straight past the small man with mis-spelled ‘Riad Douzi’ on it, but man found, we headed off into the city, with me attempting to re-learn my long dormant French. “Why are there no seatbelts?” asked my accountant, looking around worriedly at the disorder of traffic in the early evening rush-hour. I translated. The answer came: “so you can fit seven passengers in”. Right. Good thing the speed limit was only sixty-kph-or-so, I thought. Entering the Medina, the roads quickly became all-but impassible to traffic, with several seemingly impossible moments where two cars had to pass resolved by shutting up roadside shops and stalls and moving everybody out of the way. Before too long, we were dumped outside our hostel. We tipped, but evidently not enough; for the first time we encountered a facial gesture that was to become well known to us- “you fucking cheapskates”. Oh well. We were shown around and given tea by a guy called Abdul (more on him later), and set off to find some food.
    We had barely gone twelve paces down the road before my accountant was set upon by hawkers. “English, yes? You want to buy hashish?” Without blinking came the reply, accompanied by a famous gesture- “These aren’t the tourists you’re looking for.” Fighting the confused faces, he continued, “You don’t want to sell me hashish.” As we walked on, he paused a moment, turned, and added thoughtfully, “haram.” Clearly the previous week spent with his nose in an Arabic phrasebook had paid off, for that last comment elicited a “fuck you!”
    Fun fact: in Moroccan Arabic, ‘tramp’ and ‘student’ are almost perfectly assonant. I’d heard a lot of stories before we came about beggars everywhere and aggressive hawkers, but while the hawkers were still there, I found it difficult to spot beggars or homeless anywhere we went- I can only assume that the Moroccan tourist board has been cleaning up or something, because there’s no way during a global recession that Marrakech, dependent on the tourist economy, has less tramps than Manchester. Our friend Abdul suggested that cheap Ryanair flights (a recent development) have extended the length of the tourist season in the country, but I’m not so sure.
    Having done a quick turn around the markets, or souqs (I say quick, but I mean getting repeatedly lost while walking around for a day and a half), we decided to head out desert-wards, catching a bus to Ouarzazate, centre of Morocco’s booming film industry. On our way to the bus station, we picked up some street food, tried to avoid a hawker by speaking German (he switched instantly to flawless, idiomatic German, to which we shrugged and walked off while he chased us), and saw a teenager in a Ché Guevara t-shirt (further evidence of western cultural hegemony). The bus was delayed for an hour while a blazing row was conducted in Arabic, ostensibly about seating arrangements, but also (we think) about smoking on the coach.

There was going to be more- jokes about B-Ark, a London rude boy with an Edinburgh accent, general tomfoolery, and of course three or four days of being on bread and water. We got fucked over by National Rail as soon as we got home, too, but that's hardly new is it?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Final thought for today...

Two articles from the BBC:

Party on!

Exposed: RIBS Interview

Aha! It all comes together, as you see. I had the chance to put some questions to one of the best bands I've come across in the last few months, Boston's RIBS. Over the weekend, vocalist/guitarist Keith and lead guitarist Justin got together and took them on- the results are in, so have a look:

1. What is the band up to now? What are your plans for the future, and is there an album on the horizon?

Keith: Right now we're coming to grips with the fact that we have too many song ideas and not enough hours in the day. We're about to release two electronic-y singles, "Cosmos" and "Please Don't Go", and we're also writing our second EP Russian Blood which should be done by early next year.

2. What was the recording process for the EP like?


Keith: Fragmented.


Justin: All the parts for British Brains were recorded separately and at different times over the course of 2009. We tracked guitars, bass, and vocals in bedrooms and rehearsal spaces, then saved up enough money to spend a day doing drums at a nice studio.

3. Why 'British Brains'?


Keith: It's a WW2 quote from Stalin during the Teheran Conference with Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt. He said the war was being fought with "British brains, American brawn and Russian blood." [I guess that explains EP2's name then...]

4. What would you say your main influences are, musical or otherwise? Were there are any bands that have had a particular influence on your sound or your attitude towards your music?


Keith: The influences behind British Brains are fairly straightforward. Mostly rock bands. Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine, Our Lady Peace. As a band, though, we've got a lot of influences that have yet to show up like David Bowie, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Sneaker Pimps, Elliot Smith, M83, Arcade Fire, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. And more recently Grizzly Bear and Liars.


Outside of music, we take inspiration from anything that makes us feel more alive or draws us in. Christian Bale's character in American Psycho. [Bassist] Blake [Fusilier] had us read Patti Smith's new book Just Friends, which is about bohemian culture and her life in NYC during the late 60s and early 70s. And to those who are depressed about the state of music over the last few years... I think we are in the golden age of television. Mad Men, The Wire, Dexter... Amazing things are being done in the TV world. So anyway, the four of us are always analyzing pop culture and art to help us figure out how to implement our ideas–how we can make people feel a certain way with a song, our live set, album artwork, etc.


Justin: Definitely a huge fan of Dexter, but for me a lot of inspiration comes from movies. It's the culmination of a lot of different things being delivered over different mediums all at once. The aesthetic of the film itself, the film score, acting, story, dialogue, etc. Movies allow me to totally lose myself and exist in a suspended state of reality, even if it's only for a couple of hours.

5. You successfully managed to self-generate a lot of buzz through Reddit for your self-released EP; as a result, do you see a record label as still being relevant given that DIY appears to have worked so well for you?


Justin: We're not waiting on anyone, but we're keeping our options open.


Keith: Exactly. Artists today don't need a label to survive, but on the other hand we want to do more than just survive. We've got big plans and there's no way we're going to be able to pull them off without putting together a great team. So it's really a question of, do they pay us or do we pay them?

6. What's your view on downloading? Does it help or hinder bands?


Keith: We have a neutral stance on piracy. We won't judge you if you download our music. But I don't know that we could afford to keep going if it weren't for the incredible support we got from the Reddit users who came out in droves, paying for our EP and sharing it with their friends. It was a humbling experience and we're incredibly grateful for it.


I think there's an expectation now that new acts have to give away their music in exchange for the exposure, and eventually that exposure will pay off. A lot of bands think that's the best way to get their music heard by as many people as possible. But we made a very conscious decision not to release the EP for free, because we don't want to give people the impression that we don't want their money, or that we won't put it to good use. Because we will. And I think in the long run, more people will hear our music and more RIBS material will be released because of all the people that decided to support us early on.


Plus the EP is free to stream on our Bandcamp page (, so everyone can hear it and share it with their friends that way too. [I've included this at the bottom for you, my lovely readers; it's also on the review page for British Brains- don't I make this easy?]

7. What do you prefer: playing live, or on the record?


Justin: Both are very different from one another. While I love recording and exploring what can be done to a song in the recording process, those 40 minutes on stage, when time stops and all you're doing is just playing, is the most fun I can have. That's the happiest I could possibly be.

8. Your sound is pretty tech heavy; what's your favourite bit of kit?


Keith: I have to give a shout out to SoundToys for their Echoboy plugin, which helped create the vocal sound for "Even" and the guitars on "Silencer". I don't think either of those songs would've been possible without it. I also love my Zvex Box of Rock distortion pedal. Blows me away every time.


Justin: I used my Diezel VH4s amp for the leads on British Brains.

9. How did the band get started in the first place?


Keith: Blake and I grew up together in Atlanta. We started writing together in 2001 and became best friends. Then we had a falling out, stopped talking for a while, and I went to Boston for college. We started talking again, then Blake got stir crazy in Atlanta and transferred to Boston University.


When I first got to music school, I was hearing about some guy named Justin Tolan who was this shred guitar prodigy. Then a few years later we started hanging out in the same circles and I found out he's actually into a lot of the stuff I'm into. And it turned out he was from Atlanta too.


Then maybe a year later my dad ran into him at a used guitar shop in Atlanta on break from school. Still, nothing came of it. Some time after that, I responded to a 'band-wanted' ad he put up around town listing Aphex Twin, Radiohead, and Muse, not knowing who posted it. The moral is, all roads lead to Justin Tolan.

When we first met [drummer] Chris [Oquist], he told us he was playing in a metal band and his favorite artists were The Beatles and Paul Simon. That pretty much sealed the deal.

10. Can you remember the best show you've ever played?


Keith: My personal favorite was at this church in Pennsylvania that looked like an empty airplane hangar. It was huge, and we took full advantage of the space. I knocked over the mic stand with my guitar, Justin slammed into me, Blake was throwing stuff... It felt great.

11. What do you love about music?


Justin: The people you meet and the experiences you can have are new every day. No matter how much you learn about music there's always something new to learn. Based on all the people you meet and the things there are to learn, the possibilities are endless. And there's no age limit. I'm sure I'll be 70 years old playing a piano somewhere until I die or go deaf.

Well, there you have it. Lovely chaps, great music, and we wish them all the success they deserve. Now to start planning the UK tour.... (wishful thinking never hurt anybody.)

Live shots (c) LunahZon Photography ( / Exploding in Sound
Group shot (c) RIBS the band.

<a href="">British Brains by RIBS</a>

"We Will Be Victorious"

or, how my resistance to Muse's The Resistance collapsed...

I guess it was inevitable, really. I remember clearly when Black Holes and Revelations came out, I eagerly slapped on track one, 'Take a Bow'. It wasn't long (about forty seconds, I would guess) before I was cursing Muse, Matt Bellamy, the engineer who mixed the track, and the record label who put the album out. You might say that I was not a fan. Having relegated the album to my 'can't be bothered' pile, I returned to Porcupine Tree's In Absentia and promptly forgot all about their betrayal.

The thing was, I'd already felt that way before- albeit to a lesser degree- when Absolution came out. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I felt that the band were moving away from the space-rock-meets-rage-against-the-machine-with-falsetto-vocals that had made me fall in love with them in the first place. The structures were different, somehow; although 'Stockholm Syndrome' was possibly the heaviest thing (bar 'Dead Star') they'd yet recorded, it still wasn't 'Citizen Erased'. Not only that, but 'Endlessly' had to be the shittest thing they'd committed to tape in their career (I hadn't heard the pre-Muse EP demos at this point, so I didn't know how wrong I was). With a shrug though, I reasoned, "I'll probably end up loving it." And I was right, for here I am, and I do.

The same, of course, was true of the follow-up, Black Holes and Revelations; in fact, not only did I grow to love every track on the album, but I also have a few live bootlegs of it from that tour. It is fair to say that I bloody love it.

Then came The Resistance. "No!" I said, "enough! This time Muse have gone too far!" Subconsciously besieged by all of the early album comparisons between Muse and Queen (pre- Resistance: use of the chromatic scale, which equally was influenced by RATM, and falsetto vocals- see also, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead), it finally became horribly, viscerally real. They finally had taken their 'bombast' (another word beloved of the lazy music press, and printed here for irony's sake only, I promise) to its logical conclusion, and in the Dr. Who theme-esque 'Uprising' had lost me at track one.

I should have just shrugged.

For a few years, Muse had been talking of a project under various guises- a symphony, a theatrical show, an opera; this truly huge project finally emerged as the end of the album in the three-part 'Exogenesis' symphony. It is the single best thing Muse have ever written. Yes, you heard me. Better than 'Coma'. Better than 'Overdue'. Better than 'Citizen Erased'. Better than... you get the idea. Like a virus it spread; from listening to just the last three tracks, I gradually started listening to 'MK Ultra', but still couldn't stomach the rest.

Then came Glastonbury. Safely sandwiched in the Muse hardcore towards the front of the colossal crowd, suddenly the new tracks came alive and I found myself singing along to the mass chant of "EUR-ASIA!" from 'United States of Eurasia' and "We Will Be Victorious!" from 'Uprising'. I left the show thinking that they had worked really well live, and maybe, just maybe, I'd been wrong. When it came time to pack the six CDs I would take backpacking to Morocco with me (yes I still use a CD Walkman, get over it), I found, to my surprise, that The Resistance made the cut. As they say, the rest is history.

..."I Belong To You" is still a piece of shit though. That is the worst thing they've ever done, and will remain so until Matt Bellamy decides to try my patience again.

Now I'm done.

Monday, 13 September 2010

British Brains
Rating: 4.5/5

"Some people never got over 'Nam, or the night their band opened for Nirvana... I guess I never really got over Charlie" says John Cusack in High Fidelity. Well, I never really got over Vex Red. And, as luck would have it, neither did RIBS. Indeed, I wonder if 'British Brains' is a reference to Vex and Cooper Temple Clause, for it's definitely those Brits whose heads RIBS are mining for influences. Taking the Vex template of Silverchair-meets-Nine Inch Nails, they infuse it with the space-rock musings of Failure and marry it to an original voice in frontman Keith Freund; the results are nothing short of spine-tinglingly good.

In fact, my only criticism of this EP is its comparative brevity; just as you're getting into the swing and pace of the tracks, the collection is fading out on 'Queen of Hearts'. In particular, the juggernaut rock assault of 'Even' and 'Brains Out', the first two tracks, pass by in such a sonic maelstrom that you're left restraining yourself from clicking 'back' (if you're on iTunes), or pressing 'rewind' (if you're listening on CD).

The highlight for my money is 'Brains Out', though 'Silencer', the quiet foil to the openers is a close second, melting into a rushing flood of fuzz distortion and atmospherics at its crescendo. To be honest the standard is consistently very high, but with only five tracks on offer you have to draw a line somewhere.

Absolutely fucking essential.


Have a listen here:

<a href="">British Brains by RIBS</a>

Friday, 10 September 2010

Holy shit, Batman!

Now this is really fucking cool (and as usual, I hadn't heard about it before now)- a Radiohead fan-made concert film for which the band provided high quality audio. I love live bootlegs. They make me a very happy man.


Thursday, 9 September 2010

Dean McPhee
Brown Bear
Hood Faire
Rating: 4/5

Soon to be released on CD, this collection of tracks from virtuosic solo guitarist Dean McPhee builds upon his Chapters Split 7" ('Water Burial'), offering three new cuts, 'Sky Burial', 'Stony Ground' and 'Brown Bear'. It's much of the same really, both in terms of content and quality, which can only be a good thing. Recently I stylistically compared James Blackshaw's opus All is Falling to Dean's style, but for my money Dean's the more interesting player; for sure, Blackshaw has more layers to his compositions, but then he's working with other instruments and players.

McPhee's strength on the other hand is in simplicity and being able to carry the pieces on just his guitar work alone; moreover, both are quite different propositions musically, even if I have been spending far too much of this review comparing the two. Dean's playing is more indebted to classical guitar figures, filtered through some traces of the blues and obviously the given modern inflection that an obsession with tube amps and high-end effects will lend. If you sit still and pay careful attention, the myriad twists and turns will keep you engaged, but equally it's also great music to chill out to. Employ as you see fit.
Steven Wilson
Kscope Records
Out Now
Rating: 4.5/5

Now, I wouldn't say that Porcupine Tree's most recent offering, the 55-minute Incident, was a disaster, but it was no Deadwing either. Its central conceit was that the album contained only one fifty-five minute cut; however, those of us excitedly waiting to see what this would entail found that it was actually subdivided into about 13-or-so (off the top of my head) passages. I have a name for passages of music that feature as part of a larger body of work- songs. Indeed, whilst at times tracks did flawlessly flow into one another, and there was an effort to riff on concepts or motifs to link the disparate passages, it simply was not a one hour song as we were promised.

Anyway, enough bitching, for Mr. Wilson has made good with this, his solo effort. Once again, he reminds the listener why he's such an ever-present and prolific force within modern progressive rock; when he's on form he is the best in the world at what he does.

The album kicks off with the soaring early- PT monster 'Harmony Korine' before moving into Bass Communion territory with 'Abandoner'. There follow a number of atmospherics-led post-rock numbers, sparsely constructed of distant piano lines, guitar slides and washes of his inimitable vocal harmonies before 'No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun' shudders into view. It's essentially a melange of dissonant noodling over virtuosic drums that shift through patterns while the guitar tangles itself up, chases its own tail, and finally crashes and burns into a chorus so brilliant that it remains the best break on the record.

Closely followed by 'Significant Other', marked by transcendant operatic guest vocals from Clodagh Simonds, the album peaks before a mood change back to more drone-based space rock on 'Only Child', 'Get All You Deserve' and the title track.

The key to this record is that while Steve is clearly free to experiment as he sees fit, he's always drawn back in to occasional sharp focus by the supporting musicians (the regular cast of Porcupine Tree, as well as Theo Travis, amongst others), making this album as eclectic and exciting as any Porcupine Tree release; indeed, it's probably more experimental and fresh than anything his main project has done in a decade.

In fact, it's scarcely not a PT record (looking at the musicians' credits in the sleevenotes). By the side project moniker Wilson simply bought himself the ability to forego using his bandmates, even if he didn't in practice. With this, he was able to end up with 'Harmony Korine' next to 'Abandoner', and a fantastic LP into the bargain.

Also today, free music from In Casino Out...

In Casino Out (formerly known as the excellent ConnectingFlight)'s first EP, The Shields EP, is now available for free as they promote some new shows ahead of a new release in 2011. As a fan since they first got started on this project, I can only recommend that you get over there and download a copy!

In case you haven't heard them, their music is somewhere between Oceansize's more aggressive tracks circa Everyone Into Position and Frames mixed with the math punk of At the Drive In and the multi-guitar attack of Radiohead. The atmospherics of their previous incarnations are somewhat more muted, and admittedly it's pretty heavy, but those into the louder things in life should enjoy...

Link here:


The photo used above is (c) Daniel King 2010

Terry Abbott Interview

I was recently forwarded a link from a mate to an interview with Terry Abbott (Vex Red, Septembre, Fears) on Exploding in Sound. Check it out: