Thursday, 30 December 2010

Stats me timbers.

So I've gone over the year's stats, and it might be of some interest as to what the most viewed articles were...

1. Charlie Barnes' album launch
2. Fears album review
3. The Pineapple Thief album review
4. RIBS interview
5. 2000 Trees Day Two
6=. RIBS British Brains review / My In The City preview / Best of 2010 List

I love Google Analytics.

I also want to say a big THANK YOU to the 20% of views that come from (what I presume are) regular readers, and really anyone that reads this shit. That an average of twenty people would take a couple of minutes out of their day to read this fiasco warms my bitter fucking heart.
It's nearly 2011! PARTY ON!


Dinosaur Pile-Up - Please Please Me (Beatles Cover) by FriendsVsRecords


Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Octopus Cometh....

The Octopus
Release Date: 31/1/2011
Rating: 5/5

So it's finally here. The Octopus. Two hours and five minutes of music. Dear God.

It's pretty difficult to marshall words, such is the scope of this record; it's quite simply massive, both musically and conceptually. Along with the album comes a comic of the story, which ends simply with the words 'the beginning is important in all things', as well as a block of text explaining the concept of the record. By iterating and replacing letters with symbols, gradually the text dissolves into nonsense, and only ends with the credits page. I think it's about entropy, but it could equally be about the evolution of mind; I'm not really sure, but either way it's just the kind of high-minded conceptual art that is a breath of fresh air after years of vapid electro-indie.

The songs themselves are a mixed bag; “well ha, fucking ha!” mocks Sel in 'Golden Ratio', a track beholden to Amp's early period, while 'Fall of the Empire', and the title track are a darker, heavier evolution of their earlier records. Cuts like 'The Emperor' are equally similar to the mood and style of Insider, but the newer, heavier Amplifier definitely predominates. The riffs will be familiar to long-time fans, but the orchestral grandeur and huge harmonies are largely a new phenomenon. In any case, it's very welcome to have sprawling space-rock tracks like 'Interstellar' and the massive closer, 'Forever and More' in the mix, for they add the textural diversity that was perhaps found wanting on Insider compared to their début.

Between the two discs there's a change in feel too; Disc One, for the most part is the more 'classic' Amplifier sound- 'Planet of Insects' in particular sounds like nothing so much as an Amplifier track.  Most of the songs reflecting pretty much how Amplifier have been sounding live for the last two years; there's even a piano coda after 'White Horses at Sea' by live keyboard player Charlie Barnes to illustrate this fact. It's all just as atmospheric as before, but if anything rather more driving and perhaps a little less psychedelic. There's less of that Gilmour-esque reverb-fuzz-wah combination and I'd hazard that the bass has come up in the mix somewhat, no bad thing.

Disc Two, on the other hand kicks off with the scratchy and strange 'Sick Rose', a marked change from 'Trading Dark Matter on the Stock Exchange', which in its most Soundgarden-y moment (think 'Just Like Suicide') even includes a power-stance ready shred passage, stylishly executed. To suddenly emerge into a drifting web of heavily effected guitar textures is somewhat disorientating. The disc continues this general theme of wrong-footing the listener, and there's even an acoustic guitar taking the lead (shock horror) on 'Oscar Night' (no relation to Oceansize's recent 'Oscar Acceptance Speech'), to my mind the first time since 'Scarecrows' from The Astronaut Dismantles Hal. On 'Bloodtest' a brilliantly nuts drumbeat drills its way into your forehead while stereo guitar nonsense ensues, and though the average length of songs on the second disc is longer than those on the first, to my surprise it passed a lot more effortlessly.

These are of course, after four days of listening, only really first impressions; nevertheless, what emerges clear as day is the fact that this is the best album Amplifier have yet made, and that the listener who cares to (or, indeed has the patience to) untangle its substance will be rewarded. Whatever it is or isn't about, it's fantastic. What's even more amazing about the whole thing is that whilst it was created without any label support, entirely in a DIY manner, it's still so perfectly-formed and fully realised. There's not a note or cymbal crash out of place, and they should be proud of just how accomplished this album is. Absolutely bloody brilliant, there's no two ways about it.

As covers go...

This is pretty killer.

As I gather (well of fucking course I do, he's a good mate of mine), Jonny is re-releasing his album soon using the SSDPackaging(TM) template of 7" sleevey goodness. Should you like what you hear but be-ahem- indifferent towards actually owning physical copies, you want to head here.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Obligatory best of 2010 list.

Ok, I know everybody does one of these, but on this occasion I am going to bow to peer pressure and just go with the flow. If you can't, just can't, be doing with the sheer tedium of another self-important, opinionated list, then kindly fuck off. For that matter, what were you even doing here in the first place? Anyway....


1. Geekk – Charlie Barnes
Let's be honest. This was his first time out to bat, and he came out with this fucking album. Jesus, if I didn't give first place to a twenty-one year old writing and recording a prog-pop album with string arrangements, I'd be told by my boss to hand in my pen and gun next time I'm down the station. 

Reading that back almost suggests that its very existence merits it first place; while there's a little truth in that, don't mistake my full meaning for a second- this is a great album, full of songs in varied in mood, style and tempo as can be whilst maintaining the overall consistency that is appropriate for the album format. That's the kicker, of course: this isn't just a great collection of songs, but a great album, and Charlie has, in a perverse way, shown just how intelligent and forward-thinking his music is by working within this supposedly 'outdated' framework and still coming up with something this arresting and innovative.

2. Grappling Hooks- North Atlantic Oscillation
In terms of sheer originality, there is only one contender for the crown: NAO. They are so damn quirky and original, it still shocks me that Kscope had the balls to sign them and put out the album; not only that, but getting Zane Lowe's Radio 1 Record of the Week award fucking blows my mind. Still only a critic's favourite, that's likely to change with album two, which I am ably informed will be released on Kscope next year. Their catchy electronic hooks, which initially belie a much deeper, more progressive- or post- rock feel to the arrangements, draw the listener in, and the substance and quality of the music keeps them engaged. Just a fantastic band in every important way, and one that repays every bit of effort you put into exploring their musical world.

3. Disconnect from Desire – School of Seven Bells
Look, everybody knows School of Seven Bells are phenomenal, but this record confirmed it; a difficult second, that while lacking some of the gleeful experimentalism of Alpinisms (in lieu of greater structure and more traditional songwriting), was still a great record in its own right, and one that can leave us optimistic about album three. Oh, and the artwork was pretty damn cool, too. 

4. Fever - Sleepy Sun 
This record is very fucking simple. It's desert-blues, pure psych freakout nonsense; it's easy to listen to over and over, and the riffs are just as fresh the hundredth time as the first. It makes the list on the basis of a single word: quality. This is a record that oozes quality- couple that with a earnestness about the music (if not the lyrics, which are basically nonsense, as far as I can tell), and it's somehow far superior to the sum of its parts.

5. All Creatures Will Make Merry – Meursault
I was a late convert to the Meursault bandwagon, joining shortly before this record came out. It has so many different aspects to it that the mind boggles; from industrial to shoegaze, via lo-fi folk, and all the more incredible for being recorded in Mr. Toad's living room (look this up and it'll make sense, I promise). I had the good luck of catching them live at Glastonbury festival- where they played a storming set- as well as in Manchester, and the sheer intensity of their live show is such that it actually reflects back on the record on subsequent listens. Whatever genre these guys actually belong in, they should be hailed as Kings.

6. Someone Here is Missing – The Pineapple Thief
As good (in fact better) than either of the last two Porcupine Tree records, the most recent Pineapple Thief LP is everything that is great about modern progressive; splashes of electronics, distortion and delay combined with a deft grasp of songwriting that even allows for all the instruments to be cast aside in favour of sparse acoustic versions. 

In the songs you'll hear echoes of early Cooper Temple Clause, Radiohead, Vex Red, Origin of Symmetry-era Muse, even hints of Mogwai. In particular, if you can get the Extended edition, the album being bookended by the acoustic version of opener 'Nothing at Best' is a delightful contrivance. Overall, it's an album as marked by its technical distinction as its songwriting pedigree; in terms of sheer originality they get beaten, sure, but in terms of the enjoyability or accessibility of this record, they are hard to beat, and I'd not be too surprised if this were my 'most played' album of 2010. 

7. Self-Preserved While the Bodies Float Up - Oceansize
It's very hard for me to be objective about a 'size record, but from initially really disliking this album, I've come around to thinking that maybe it's their best since their masterwork, Everyone Into Position. 'It's My Tail And I'll Chase It If I Want To' is not only the best cut on the record, but may well be my favourite thing they've ever done- it's just fucking mad

Back to the record though; I hate using the word 'mature', so, er, it makes them sound old. In a good way. I'm sadly beginning to think that maybe this band will end up never getting the recognition they truly 'deserve', but with Biffy Clyro now fucking massive, and the second generation of bands like In Casino Out drawing influence from them and now starting their own careers, maybe this will change. I sincerely hope it does. 

8. Growing Pains – Dinosaur Pile-Up 

Seriously though, the first indication that grunge is coming back, and damn am I ready, especially if it all sounds as good as this. What music writer, musician, or general layabout can't sympathise with lines like "my rock n' roll's been causing all sorts of trouble/bless my poor mother, she always knew something was going on/with her son..."? 

9. The Octopus - Amplifier
This is only so low because the general release is next year (January), but I got mine now, so I slotted it in even though I've not fully marshalled my thoughts enough for a review yet. Its inclusion in this list should convince you of its quality, though. 
10. 3am, the Beautiful, the Bittersweet - Fears
This is tacked on the end because I only just realised it came out this year. I've actually had some of the songs for nearly four years, so it almost skipped my mind. It's essentially a download compilation of Terry Abbott's work as Fears, and if I actually counted it as a full album, it'd be at Number One, simple. If you want to know what all the fuss is about, check out my review in the archives, or find a copy of the album and have a listen for yourself. 

Honourable mentions:  

Pale Silver & Shiny Gold - Sad Day for Puppets
SDFP's second turns out to be just as good as their first- a storming grunge-shoegaze concoction whose best cut, 'Monster & the Beast' is up there with the best tracks released this year. Heartbreakingly good.

Small Craft on a Milk Sea – Brian Eno 
How the fuck does he still stay relevant? 'Paleosonic' and 'Two Forms of Anger' prove he's still got it; not only that, but he's got more left to say. 

British Brains (EP) - RIBS
Another first outing, Boston-based RIBS take that industrial-grunge template briefly championed by Vex and TCTC and shake it up with a bunch of stuff that's happened since, not to mention some shades of trip-hop. Were it not an EP, it'd be in the list above. 

Brothers - The Black Keys
Speaking of bands who've 'still got it', there's this. Not as lo-fi as their previous efforts, and perhaps a little less riff-heavy than Thickfreakness, but 'Ex-Girl' is undoubtedly one of my tracks of the year, and for the sheer pop joy of 'Tighten Up' they deserve a shout. 
Scratch My Back - Peter Gabriel
I know it's covers, but it's Peter fuckin' Gabriel, ok? Though there are admittedly a few weak patches (er, 'Street Spirit' what?), it deserves to be here for the covers of Magnetic Fields' 'The Book of Love' and Bowie's 'Heroes', which are so beautiful that they make me stop whatever I'm doing just to listen whenever I hear them. 

Well, that's it. Hope you enjoyed it! Check back in a few days for a review of the elusive Octopus (nearly a week in the making, seriously).

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A late Christmas present....

Time for a story. Twelve years ago, five students met at music school in Salford. Forced to collaborate on a group project, they played set of covers at a concert together, and began to sense potential in the air. A Mogwai concert under the influence of acid was all that remained to form Oceansize, the most famous British experimental band of the last ten years behind Porcupine Tree. Three albums and several EPs in, they've returned with a new offering, Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. With the record as musically outspoken as they themselves have been at times, HV caught up with frontman Mike Vennart in between his duties as Biffy Clyro's touring guitarist to discuss it.

How would you describe the new album vis-à-vis your previous efforts?

“Vis-à-vis? Nobody's ever said that before. Erm, I guess it's more mature sounding. It's probably the most melodic. Rather than me writing all the vocal melodies this time I actually got the rest of the band involved and we worked on things. It was much more working in factions, two or three of us rather than all five of us jamming all the time... all the old stuff is written almost entirely of jams, since we record absolutely everything we play. For a long time, I didn't think we'd ever top the second album, because I held it in such high regard. I know that it was the most unafraid, don't-give-a-fuck sort of record, but now I can hear the holes, hear a bit of immaturity which I don't hear on the new record. If I didn't think this was the best, I wouldn't put it out.”

Have side projects affected the sound? I know Gambler recently put out a record, and there's also Steve playing in Future of the Left, not to mention the guys in Kong. You're touring with Biffy Clyro at the moment, and my first thought upon hearing the new record was 'ah, that makes sense'...

“Er, the album was recorded and finished before I jumped on. I literally went from finishing the record to the next day rehearsing with Biffy, and Steven wasn't in Future of the Left at the time. I like to think that Gambler brought a lot of his solo album to the table. If you listen to 'A Penny's Weight', then there's all kinds of little things embedded in there that you might not spot for fucking ages, all of these weird textures buried in the mix. That was all him sitting there with a laptop while we were recording vocals or whatever- he kept flying in these wild sounds. He just 'sprinkles the fairy dust on', to quote the Troggs.”

The first release (before Self Preserved...) to be recorded in your studio was the Home and Minor EP, which was quite a departure from your last album, Frames. Self Preserved... is similarly a jump from that sound, so was there a conscious decision to go 'soft record', 'loud record'?

“We didn't plan it that far in advance. The whole Home and Minor thing was an experiment to see if the studio thing was going to work... it was a necessity. [The record company] needed something pronto and we were like 'fuck'. It was all pieced together- there were never two people playing at any given time. It was all one at a time and edited together on screen. We'd been talking about an ambient record for fucking years, so it was like 'right, cool,they want an EP, let's do it now. As soon as I came up with the music for 'Part Cardiac', it was like 'that's got to be first'... it's to keep people on their toes I guess, fuck with their heads a bit, and make them wonder what we're going to do next. We don't really know what kind of band we are, but we've tried to stop worrying about that.”

Have you got to the stage that it's... not irrelevant, but not something you can worry about anymore then?

“I've always said that if we did kind of know what we were supposed to be doing then that's when we'd fuck it up. If you start writing to a blueprint, if you start thinking 'oh, we're this kind of band, we've got to write this kind of music', then I think we're going to come a cropper.”

Do you feel it's taken a long time to get to where you are today?

“Well, not really. Maybe what comes with this history and this body of work is people going 'fuck, are they still going?', but you get a bit of respect, I think. [We've been going] twelve years, and I'm not sure it's something we should be shouting about.”

There were quite a few bands that emerged at the same time as you- My Vitriol, Vex Red, Cooper Temple Clause- but yourselves and Amplifier seem to be the only ones left standing. Do you see yourselves as survivors?

“It sounds like a cynical and nasty thing to say, but over the years we've seen so many people in bands who get their first album out and it doesn't hit the top ten, so they quit, or jump into another band because they think that'll be the one that hits the big time... it's so careerist. We've never been like that, it's just a compulsive need to do it [that drives us]; it's a fundamental requirement to each of us. I'm married, I've got a nice home life, a cat, but I don't think about anything else. It's not a matter of wanting to do it, but that you have to do it.”

The talk then diverted briefly to his friend Sel's band, Amplifier, and their white whale, the double album Octopus, with Mike laughing,

“I'll fucking believe it when I see it. I've been singing on it for about four years. It's Chinese Democracy, man. Y'know, back in the day, in like 1992 I had tickets to see Guns n' Roses. He [Axl Rose] showed up five days late, played for an hour, and it was fucking awful. That was it, I never listened to them again. As it happened, it was Faith No More supporting, and I was like 'this is the greatest band in the world, where have I been?'”

Speaking of Amplifier- Sel talks a lot about being 'entrepreneurial' as a band. Do you think today's bands need business sense where perhaps they didn't before?

“Well, I think Sel is going completely DIY. There's a lot of stuff to consider, like paying the right amount of tax. All this kind of stuff I don't have any idea about, it's why we have a manager. I just write songs, put them out, go out and play gigs. I couldn't even tell you how much it is to book our band. No idea.”

What would you say are your biggest influences, musical or otherwise?

“Tim Smith from Cardiacs. Just that unwillingness to do anything other than what he does. He's a friend of mine, but I can't get over the fact that he's so fucking talented. He's the only genius I'm ever likely to meet. To me, he's created another language.”

Have you got any hard-won advice to give your younger self?

“Don't start smoking, I've stopped now... I think that when I started doing interviews, when we first got signed, I regret a lot of the shit that I talked. I came across as really bitter and cynical, and I'm actually not; I'm really settled these days. Back then I was a really pissy little guy, but it's that hangover from being a teenager. 23 was when I just went 'I don't have to behave like this anymore'. It just takes a while for you to know who the fuck you are and accept who you are.”

Do you listen to any contemporary bands?

“Rolo Tomassi. That's probably my favourite album of the year so far. The new album by the Walkmen...[pause] The Vessels album is fucking great... [checks his iPod] Atlas Sound. The Books. Deerhoof. I Am Kloot. Jesca Hoop. The Melvins' new album, the new Mogwai live album, Part Chimp, St. Vincent... and it sounds so patronising, but however fucking good Charlie Barnes is now, imagine how good he's going to be in five, ten years' time. Oh, the new Autolux album too...”

It seems that at the moment there's an explosion of progressive, or 'eclectic' music at the moment, from a shoegaze revival to bands like Anathema, who are reworking the prog-rock template. Do you see yourselves as a part of this?

“We don't get invited to any parties, we aren't in any particular gang. I can't even say we have an affinity with band A or band B, because it might be insulting to them... I'd love to think that we have a lot in common with Rolo Tomassi, but they're fucking incredible, from another planet. We're slowly growing into our own skin, but we don't know what it is. I think when we do work out what kind of band we are, that's when we're going to be shit, start making shit records.”

Kind of like that guitarist's feeling where, looking back, you feel you were better when you started out than when you actually learned how to play properly?

“Yeah. That's absolutely true.”

What's your favourite bit of kit?

“Kit? Really? Erm, I just got a new amp- an Orange custom shop real Bad Motherfucker, I paid actual hard cash for it. It's fucking amazing. It's the amp that Steven Malkmus uses, I'm such a Pavement fanboy. It was like, whatever's making that guitar sound, give us it. Sel used to lend me his Green Big Muff back in the day, because they sound so big. Now I use a clone, because they take up so much fucking space- it's that huge bass end, the 'hoover guitar' as Mark calls it. I still play the same guitar my mum bought me for Christmas when I was 11.”

Everyone has a guitar soulmate, right?

“Yeah, absolutely!”

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

“We played the Lowlands festival in 2004. We were on first, at one o' clock in the afternoon. Five minutes before we went on, there was nobody there, but when we walked on there were ten thousand people there who seemed to know all the songs, even though we hadn't even sold ten thousand records in Holland.”

Do you think downloading helps or hinders a band?

“If I ever found out that anybody [leaked our album], and I found out who it was, I would fucking decapitate them, it's such an abuse of power. The iTunes logo used to be a CD, now it's changed because iTunes reckon they will be outselling CDs in twelve months' time. If they're predicting it, it's probably going to happen... [but] even if the record companies all go under, people will still make music.”

How important is Manchester to the band?

“I don't we'd have got anywhere without it. I think it's a bit of a cliché to talk about how the rain there affects the mood... bands like the Smiths with a dark aesthetic... I don't know if we're a part of that, but certainly in respect of the fact that when we started everyone was ripping off Oasis or The Verve- the bad Verve, anyway- and we reacted against that, because we just weren't interested in that kind of stuff. None of us were into the Stone Roses or the Happy Mondays. It's been good to us, Manchester, even if we have never really been embraced by the 'cool' crowd.”

Could you have done as well in another city?

“No, I don't think we could have. Maybe Glasgow...”

Anyway, official looking guys from Biffy Clyro's management were hovering, and it was time to be closing up; I posed Mike my last question: what do you love about music?

“Everything. Ultimately, when you're walking down the street, there's a beat in your head, there's a melody in your head. It's literally the fucking fabric of my existence. I hear music in everything, absolutely everything.”

This interview was originally conducted for High Voltage shortly before the release of 'Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up'. I've posted it as the link I used to it the other day doesn't seem to work anymore. On a more christmassy note:

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Tripping Over Words: The World According to Tripwires

[This was published in Issue #1 of my zine, Hipsters Unite; as I recall, I did the interview and Charlie Rawcliffe edited the transcript, so credit where it's due. I decided to publish this here from the 'print-only' zine because I think this may be the first interview the band have had, and to be honest I want to be there first. Ego and that]

Tripping Over Words: The World according to Tripwires

Currently in the studio finishing off their debut album, Reading’s shoegazers-in-chief, Tripwires, took a little bit of time out to talk to us:

What’s happening in the world of Tripwires? 
‘We’re recording today, but hopefully we’ll be done by the end of the week, and the album will be coming out in March or April next year so we’ll be releasing some singles. Then I guess we’ll be touring, hopefully in lots of new places. Although, for us it's important that we keep writing songs; if we want a second album we’ve got to keep writing.’

What is it that motivates you to write?
Boredom; it’s not a great feeling, but it’s good for writing songs. But our influences play a part too.

What’s influencing you at the moment then? 
666 by Aphrodite's Child, Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk and watching documentaries about North Korea and Krautrock.

So how did you all get together and start playing?

We met at secondary school. You wouldn’t guess now, but we used to stay behind afterschool playing metal together.

What's the most difficult part of being in a young band?

Embarrassing questions about 'the band' from friends and family, and embarrassing questions about 'the band' from people who like Pendulum or Mumford and Sons; sometimes it’s best not to tell anybody. We won't get 'rich' and you're not going to 'see us on Top of the Pops'.

Can you remember the best gig you've ever played?
We once had Peroni in our rider, which was a bit special. The band we were supporting had Beck's though, so it's quite conceivable that the boxes got mixed up.

What's your favourite bit of kit?

We’re big fans of Roland Space Echos, as well as Death by Audio's Harmonic Transformer, that’s the dirtiest pedal we've ever played.

Do you think there's a shoegaze revival happening now? Any ideas as to why?

Perhaps, a lot of our favourite music has come as a reaction to the shit before it. Generally speaking, the quality of music put out in the last few years has been shocking. When people like Calvin Harris and Dizzee Rascal claim guitar music is dead, you know that change for the better is on its way. What better justification to play loud guitar music when shit pseudo-electro bands seem to dominate? Maybe a new generation of musicians will discover great music that was around when they were kids that they didn't know existed at the time, because all they heard on the radio was the fucking Spice Girls and Take That.

What is it that you love most about making music? 
That when you record it, you commit something permanently, and that whilst playing live you can do something great, yet never hear it again. You can’t help but love both those things.

>>> Tripwires will be putting out their debut record on Club AC30 next year. If you want to hear some tracks that will probably be on it, go look up our podcast, as they sent me a bunch of tracks they'd been recording earlier this year before they signed with AC30. Merry Christmas.

Continuing the Oceansize theme...

I think this was actually the video that made me come to Manchester. Mike Vennart basically dicking around in the city while some pompous yank shoots his mouth off. Classic. Also includes the brilliant quote, "the future of British music is being driven by the sounds of Oceansize and Kasabian"- errr. Not only that, but there's a brilliant cameo of Noel Gallagher doing what he does best- being a total cunt.  

Also, why not check out this video about all of Oceansize's gear. It took serious geekery to get even half of this information from Mike in interview; I might have saved myself the hassle if I'd known this existed. That said, if you do want to read that interview (it's long and rather good, though I say so myself), I'd go here:

Oceansize Interview

Thought this was worth a mention....

So, apparently Biffy Clyro are fans of People in Planes, further confirming my suspicion that they belong to the BC/TCTC/Size/Amp/Vex camp of turn-of-the-century not-quite-prog camp that I love so. It's always nice when you find out that somebody pretty rockin' likes a band that you do too. 

Anyway, basically Simon Neil was asked to name his top five songs right now, and he came out with: 

1. People in Planes - Pretty Buildings
2. My Morning Jacket - Highly Suspicious
3. Frightened Rabbit - Set You Free
4. Oceansize - Music for a Nurse
5. Biffy Clyro - That Golden Rule

List (and reasoning) is here:

Personally, I would have gone with MMJ's cover of 'Rocket Man' and probably 'Token Trapped Woman' off the first PiP album, ...As Far As The Eye Can See, but that's just me.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

More tracks from Wingman....

The joy of punk and grunge as a guitar player is that you can get four fucking notes and make a song out of them.

The joy of punk and grunge as a listener is when those notes come together through some crazy alchemy into something totally killer.

I've already been ranting about how good they are, but they've got some new tunes out so for fuck's sake check out Wingman (Harry Johns from ORKB's new band when he isn't playing with Dinosaur Pile-Up)!


Monday, 20 December 2010

Dutch Uncles- Facing the Future

[A much-shortened version of this piece was published in the last issue of High Voltage; here's the unedited version]

So now the NME is saying what we already knew; Manchester is the most exciting city on the planet for new music. When you cut though the buzz however, there's only really one true contender for the title besides your Delphic and your Everything Everything- Dutch Uncles. Famous already in these parts for their math-meets-indie guitars and frontman Duncan Wallis’s er- interesting dance moves, Dutch Uncles have just signed to Memphis Industries, recorded an album and their days as a carefully-kept secret of the city are about to end. High Voltage caught up with Duncan before they left for tour with Tokyo Police club, and had a pleasant chat over a cup of tea.

So Duncan, what are you guys upto at the moment?

“We've just been promoting the single, the début on Memphis Industries...”

Are they putting out the record then?

“Yeah, they are with us for a whole album.”

So your current focus is the album then?


What sort of stage are you at? Recording, mixing?

“We thought we'd finished- we spent the summer doing it in Salford University. It was good to get down and it got us a label. We were just doing it to get tracks down, and then found ourselves with a  little sampler, and then label interest...”

So, did you send it to them, or did they approach you?

“We sent it off to them. They'd been in touch in the past- they liked 'The Ink', so we thought, “you liked 'The Ink', let's see how you like these four...””

It's a great single.

“I like what it does as a single, but unfortunately not enough people in our camp seem to think it will penetrate enough.”

Well it's quite different, compared to say 'Face In' or 'Steadycam', the songs you hear fans calling out for at shows... that's quite a bold choice for a single.

“It was the only song we had at the time we were choosing. We wrote this album very fast- we spent about nine months writing six songs, and then spent two months getting another five.”

Was that as a result of practising more, once you knew an album was in the works?

“As we saw a vision for the album, and as soon as you've got certain degrees, and knew what was missing, your writing becomes a lot more structured rather than 'make a single, make a single, make a single...'”

What's the songwriting process then? Do the songs come out of jams, or does everybody go away and work on things?

“It's strictly eighties- music, band arrangement, lyrics.”

Well, I meant, do you approach the structure organically, or is it all very planned- section A goes after B, X will be the chorus, or whatever?

“Well we always argue over what's a chorus and what's not. I personally think that vocals make a chorus... I write the hooks, so I know where it's going to be [laughs]. At the same time, I'm playing piano in the band again-”

It's funny you should say that, because I had this smug question all lined up about being a guitar-only band, and then I heard the piano...

“Well I used to play the synth, standing up, but it looked a bit Hot Hot Heat- like I didn't know which band I was supposed to be in... [this time] I was adamant I wanted to sit down, play it two handed, give the instrument some respect...”

Like Meat Loaf? Out front of stage with the spotlight...

“More like Axl.”

You'd need to grow your hair a bit longer, get a fan-

“Get a bit more bloated, and get on the coke.”

I don't know why every interview I do at the moment comes back to slagging off Axl Rose. I wonder if it's my influence...

“Well, he did come back and make a big mockery of himself. I'm not a fan, but y'know?”

In the wake of Everything Everything and Delphic breaking though, as well as that NME article, do you feel a bit weird about the exposure you're getting at the moment, or do you think it's come at a good time and you're ready for it?

“It feels great. If we were feeling cocky about it, we could say that we've been waiting for this for a long time... I mean we have- we've been playing in bands for six years, but I've now got a small collection of NMEs for my mum with me in them. Because it's been six years, and we've seen what's happened to Delphic and Everything Everything, we're very mature about it- we aren't like 'this is happening, it's going down'. We're realistic about it, we don't want to get too excited about it... until we get recognised in the street, I don't think we have to worry about it.”

I recently saw you described as a 'young band'- I mean, you're not old men or anything [Duncan is actually about a year and a half older than I], but you have been at this a while- you've already put out an album, after all, and yet major publications I've seen haven't made any mention of it at all. How do you feel about that?

“Well, that's often our doing. Our first album, well, it's obviously an album, but we always looked at it as a very professional demo that we did at the beginning of being Dutch Uncles, our first ten songs. We thought we'd go over, get big on the continent before jumping back over and going 'AHA!' but it didn't work out like that. We never thought it was over, but we had to say 'right, let's forget that happened, but let's keep the songs that we and the fans like'... it was never released properly in the UK, in our eyes anyway- I mean, it was in HMV in the Imports section, but... our 'Face In' video never got any video play. We only started getting radio play after we joined Love and Disaster and Memphis. It felt like starting again.”

So you had to draw a line under it?

“This next album has been treated very much like a first album- we're trying to write as many singles as possible, catch as many people as we can. When it comes to the next album, we'll be a bit more reserved and go, 'let's do two really good songs, and then try and weird people out as much as possible'. We've written in 4/4 as much as we can-

That's a change.

“Exactly. The last album was lots of different time signatures that sounded like 4/4, where as this album is lots of songs in 4/4 that sound like different things.”

So we can expect less King Crimson comparisons then?

“Yeah probably [laughs]. I never knew where people got that one from.”

The other day, the BBC ran an article, that (dumbly summarised) suggested that guitar music was “dying”. What do you think of that?

“Well yeah, as a fashion it's been on the way out for ages because people give too much respect to synthesisers... it's a thing a lot of people hide behind. They make a synth-based band, then bring in the backing tracks and it all gets a bit messy for my liking. My personal opinion is that I like nothing better than two guitarists on stage, doing it like it should be. It's really good, and it shows musicianship. Guitar music is never going to die out, but I think guitarists feel like they are fighting synthesisers and synthesiser [players] feel like they are fighting guitarists.”

I guess the whole 'synthesisers putting guitarists out of a job' argument has been around for a long time- that whole Musicians' Union thing from the '70s...

“The short end of it is that guitars don't sound like guitars anymore. They've had to evolve to survive. Since 2004, indie has had two waves- guitar-based and synth-based, and it's usually pretty obvious which way a band has gone...”

Bringing it back to Manchester, do you think the descriptions of the 'scene' here have been a help or a hindrance?

 “People are a lot more willing to listen to your stuff, so if they like it, great!”

You've done most of your releases on vinyl, is there a reason for that? Do you think there's been a move back to it in recent years?

“Vinyl comes with download, so you get that, you get both. Downloads alone are just crap- you can't hold your music at the end of the day, that's what it's all about.”

The 12” sleeve is awesome...

“Yeah... it's like there's a Television vinyl that's been in Piccadilly Records for years... I got Islet's new EP- saw it and bought it without thinking about it. I'm collecting them up. I got the first one, so I got the second, and I'm going to have the third.”

So you're obviously a fan of the physical product, but you've now got enough stuff out there- and especially with a new album coming out- that you must be thinking about downloading now. Does it affect you as a musician? Is it something that concerns you?

“I don't like hearing about it. I've had people tell me they've downloaded my album illegally, to my face. It's kind of funny at the time, but...”

How do you react to that?

“I just go 'good lad', whatever. If you like it, you like it. It's not my fault if you've got bad taste in music collecting... I've got morals about it- I don't do it, I only buy vinyl. In relation to being an artist, we're told for a band at our stage, if it gets leaked then more people can hear it, and we're told that the money is in live shows, unless you're Kings of Leon... although we plan for the album to be as big as it can be, we haven't thought about making any money off of it; we've thought of making money off tours, off merch...”

So you're happy to see it getting out there as its own reward?

“Yeah, but don't leak it. [laughs]”

Speaking of shows, can you remember the best gig you've played? Is there one that sticks in your mind?

“The Bombay Bicycle Club gig at Koko. It was a full crowd and we could handle it. It was a great feeling... though every time we go up to Sunderland it's always a good gig. Barry from the Futureheads has championed us up there and Frankie and the Heartstrings push us too... but that Koko gig felt like we could handle a full crowd of kids, probably on legal highs...”

I can still remember when it was legal to buy mushrooms. I feel old now. That's probably why Muse were able to record Origin of Symmetry on shrooms...

“Really? How did they play all of those arpeggios on shrooms? Was it all a fluke? [laughs]”

Kind of a change of subject, but what's the best and worst part of being in a band?

“The best part is if you can be successful- there's nothing better than calling it your job, than being able to treat your friends, or get gifts around Christmas- if the band can pay for you to be a social, giving person. The worst part is the rest... [laughs] seriously, though the worst part is becoming your own harshest critic; there's a lot of negative thinking.”

The post-record blues?

“Probably. It's not like post-natal, but I do feel exhausted; I don't feel like I could write any more lyrics for a while now.”

Well, that's pretty much all of my questions exhausted, so to wrap up: what do you love about music?

[BIG pause] “...It makes you feel good to feel weird? I like singing along like an idiot. Also it's my job.”

To love music?

“Yeah, and I love that it is my job. You aren't going to write down every word I say right...?”

Dutch Uncles' new album is out soon on Memphis Industries. Their last two singles, The Ink and Fragrant, are out now on Love & Disaster and Memphis, respectively. They are playing a one-off special show on Monday the 29th of November at St. Phillips in Salford where Duncan assures me, “we're gonna play pretty much the whole album, plus some old ones... I get to play a xylophone solo.”

Now how could you possibly miss that?

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Octopus is here....

Some of us have been waiting upwards of three years for this moment. Right now I'm holding Amplifier's monster Octopus in my hands, and I'm just getting ready for the mammoth task of reviewing it. Unfortunately, with today being the end of term and all, I have an existing engagement with the Union Bar. Consequently, you're going to have to deal with a 'first listen' analysis for now, so here it is:





I'm not biased or anything, it's just really fucking good.

Highlights from first listen: 'The Octopus', 'Planet of Insects', 'Interstellar', 'Forever and More'.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Patterns on PYT

So did anybody read my ITC blogs for HV? Well I hope so, and I fucking know that people read my tips for ITC that I put on here- Google Analytics don't lie, biatches.

Anyway, back then I raved about a band called Patterns (formerly Elmo Logic), who are pretty damn good. They now have an EP out, on PYT (yes, that is Pull Yourself Together, as in the cool indiepop zine) Records, and as soon as you get a chance, you should fucking buy a copy because it's ace. Don't take my word for it? Don't blame you, really.

Luckily I came prepared for that. Listen to this!

Patterns - Wrong two words by pullyourselftogether

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Then and Now: a year in Oceansize gigs....

with Tubelord
Manchester Academy 3
Rating 5/5

Wow. There are a lot of great gigs happening this month. The latest in the spree I've been to comes courtesy of Oceansize, and boy, was it welcome.

But first, there was Tubelord. Whilst they did put on a mighty effort, and their songs showed some interesting twists and turns, it was all rather business as usual in the we've-bought-some-post-y2k-Sonic-Youth-albums-and-want-to-play-prog camp. Their better passages were reminiscent of the guitar howl of Biffy around Puzzle, with some Errors-esque electronics thrown into the mix, but my overriding impression was of a band not yet fully there. Nevermind.

Of my regrets (and there are many...), in recent times one stands above all else- my rather lukewarm review of the new Oceansize album, the verbose Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. On repeat listens of a appropriate quantity (a minimum of twenty, in case you wondered), all of its subtleties really do unfold, and, let's be honest, for 'Silent/Transparent', 'Pine', 'Oscar Acceptance Speech', and 'It's My Tail...' even from play number one the quality was obvious.

This isn't an album review however; this is a live review. After a serious setback to my day, not to mention the unwelcome rain, I arrived in the lowest of spirits only to find the venue had been downgraded from Academy 2 to 3; a venue I really have spent too much of my Manchester life in. I felt a little sad that a band with as extensive a back catalogue and ostensibly as loyal a fanbase hadn't grown in size since their last album, the expansive Frames. Their new album even got 8/10 in the NME, for chrissakes, so where were the punters?

I needn't have worried though, because Oceansize provided an answer to all of my questions. Point by point, it went something like 'Part Cardiac', the rarely-played 'Music for a Nurse', 'It's My Tail...', 'Pine', 'Ornament', 'Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs'. Let's be honest, I could quote the entire setlist, but those were the highlights. In purest reviewing terms, 'It's My Tail...' won hands down for its frantic, spitting vitriol, echoed in gestures and shouting from the crowd, and framed by a meltdown of strobe lighting. Emotionally, however, it was clear that their lighter-in-the-air moment was 'Music for a Nurse'; looking around, everybody was singing along, and there were even tears in a few eyes. Well, why not? They scarcely come more moving than that. For 'Unfamiliar', some moshing started at the front, whilst handclaps were the order of the day for 'New Pin'. By the time that the circle pit had worn itself out in 'Ornament', it was abundantly clear that both the crowd and band were playing off each other in that special chemical way that only sometimes manifests itself.

Encoring with 'Women Who Love Men...', the band departed one member at a time, and spurred on by the audience keeping a regular clap where the beat had been, their three guitarists kept playing the outro riff. One minute passed. Two. Three. Four. The crowd and band gradually became less distinct as the notes became simpler, less defined, somehow hypnotic; the band were unmoving, the crowd transfixed. Then, suddenly, it was over; like a well-executed crossfade, the guitars left, replaced by cheers that lasted long after the band had left the stage.

I said of the new album that it wasn't the work of the same band that made me decide to move to Manchester. Maybe, maybe not, but that band was definitely the one I saw on stage tonight, and I'm glad I came. 

With Vessels & And So I Watch You From Afar
Manchester Academy 3
Rating: 4/5

After less than two minutes of the first band on tonight, And So I Watch You From Afar’s set, I already can’t believe that I haven’t heard of them before. Their math rock-meets- heavy grunge sound is so heavy that it rattles the bones, making a mockery of metal posturing, and yet their attitude is still identifiably alt rock, busting out the Sonic Youth stage moves and post-rock delay freakouts. Their last song sounds a little like a post-rock version of Radiohead’s ‘The Tourist’, but it’s ace anyway, so I’ll let them off.

Band two, Vessels, are rather less exciting. The stage becomes crowded with an additional member, and there’s a sense that the five-piece always has one person who is surplus to requirements. They go for a more pronounced math-rock sound, using fewer chords and a lot of modal riffs, blending it with a 65daysofstatic style electronic/shoegazing wall of sound. At times it’s very compelling, but in equal measure it sometimes falls completely flat.

Finally the band of the moment take the stage. They play most of the new Home and Minor EP, as well as some songs off their upcoming album. The best of these is a slower number that gradually builds to a washed out, echoing crescendo, and also worthy of mention is a more downtempo number called ‘Ransoms’ that even features a traditional-style guitar solo. Playing from their extensive back catalogue, the band reach for all three albums, playing ‘Unfamiliar’ from Frames, ‘Massive Bereavement’ from Effloresce (and live a reminder of why this band rightfully deserved more attention than their first record brought them), as well as ‘You Can’t Keep a Bad Man Down’, set highlight ‘Calm Offensive’, and penultimate song ‘A Homage to a Shame’ from Everyone Into Position. Bizarrely, they chose to end on a newer song, that whilst not bad really felt like sticking two fingers to the eager crowd. The two previous times I’ve seen the ‘size, they’ve closed on fan favourites ‘Catalyst’ and ‘Ornament/The Last Wrongs’, so when they left without an encore, the crowd having chanted ‘Catalyst’ excitedly at the band for the last fifteen minutes of their set, the mood in the room definitely took a turn. Even with the disappointing end, it was nevertheless a great set. Roll on album four!
with Stuart Warwick and Plank!
Deaf Institute, Manchester
14th November 2010
Rating: 4/5

Apparently I missed the first band on. My bad, really. Worse than that, I actually got chatting to them by accident at some point, and have since forgotten their band name and failed to look them up. I suck.

Right, so apologies out of the way, let's talk Plank! As luck would have it, they are actually about as essential as the exclamation mark that concludes their bandname; from an unconvincing start, their songs became gradually more and more interesting, until with a righteous guitar solo in their penultimate number, they'd completely won me over. They are great, and if you're into that kind of looping, math-meets-prog thing, they are definitely the band you've been waiting for. They even did a kind of stadium rock flourish in their last song that was distinctly Who-like. Excellent!

Now, when you go to a lot of gigs, you're eventually exposed to a little of pretty much every genre out there, and you quickly become very hard to be surprised by anything. The most pleasant surprises of all are when sheer musicianship wins through and somebody merely doing what they do incredibly well becomes the greatest virtue, ahead of originality, stagecraft or whatever.

That's not to say that Stuart Warwick doesn't have an original sound- he has, but at the same time it's definitely from that same bizarro-world of popular music from which Imogen Heap and Charlie Barnes have descended. Simply, it's one man and a piano (or, for one song, two men and one guitar) playing post-rock-pop, with a lot of loops. Stuart's voice is definitely of the Buckley school, and it's very compelling, to say the least. The songs themselves are occasionally bitter, occasionally sweet, and rather more often, bittersweet.

The crowd is finally won over when Stuart abandons an out of sync loop and cashiers a track, saying “I guess this is God's way of telling me I shouldn't play that song”. I think I speak for everyone present when I say we were sad to see him leave. If you're reading this, open up another tab and go and find him on teh internets. It's not hard (I managed to) and you will be rewarded.

Finally it was Vessels' time in the spotlight. I've actually had the good luck to see this band a surprisingly large number of times, both at festivals and in support slots, sober or too-drunk-to-remember, and everything in between. The thing I can't help thinking tonight as I sit in the strange theatre seat section of Deaf is how much better this band get every time I see them. My first impression, way back when, was of a band rather too mathy for my tastes, but today they are on fine form, sprawling and dramatic.

I'm not going to go into the nature metaphors; it's post-rock done well, and you should know what that sounds like (hint: Hammock or 65daysofstatic). Most encouragingly of all, the tracks I don't recognise (the newer ones) are much stronger than the ones I do, suggesting that their impending album is going to be a corker. Stuart obligingly hops back up to the stage to sing recent single, 'Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute', and again reminds me of that little itch I felt when first hearing it and wishing that this collaboration would become more permanent. Oh well.

That dispensed with and the audience satisfied, Vessels cracked out a hammer-of-the-gods finish and then made their exit, but not before thanking the crowd for actually being arsed to come down. Nice. 

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The End is the Beginning is the End: the Smashing Pumpkins

Now I'm sure that I've mentioned this somewhere else- and I do feel like I say it often enough- but the Smashing Pumpkins are my favourite band. I don't know if this should come as a surprise or not, but there it is. Yes, I am aware that Zeitgeist is a piece of shit, that's a given- there is no such thing as the Smashing Pumpkins without James Iha (and, to a much lesser extent D'arcy, or even Auf Der Maur), and no matter how many incredible session musicians you get in to replace those lost members, the band will never be the same. Do you hear me, Billy Corgan? THE BAND WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. Right, so proceeding from the idea that the Smashing Pumpkins ended sometime in 2000, let's begin.

The Gish Pumpkins.

The greatest thing about the Smashing Pumpkins is not that their music is killer, or that on each album they did something completely different (though I will discuss this later), but the story behind the band. Anybody who's heard the alternative edit of 'Mayonaise' cut with the interview clips of Billy Corgan and co. chatting knows what I'm on about.

At the root of it, Billy Corgan was once likable, remember? He was a clever kid who skipped college to follow the rock and roll dream and failed. His first band, The Marked, broke up in obscurity, and it was not until a considerable time after that the seed of the Pumpkins (cough, cough) was formed when he met James Iha and the two jammed with a drum machine. All of the lyrics of the first album were so obtuse as to be indecipherable, but that all changed with Siamese Dream, where he finally bared all in one cathartic, angst-soaked masterpiece. It's also the record where the Smashing Pumpkins' sound was truly born. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Gish, and 'Snail', 'Rhinoceros', 'I am One' and 'Bury Me', but the Pumpkins will forever be associated with the massive, overdub- loaded sound they achieved on Siamese.

The story of Corgan's wife- how he met her on the stairs at a show, to their courtship, breakup and his eventual retreat to living on the floor of their practice space even with a million dollars in his bank account is certainly one of the best rock n' roll tales I've ever heard, but it's not for me to recount here. The truth is, evidenced especially by things like the Vieuphoria tape, the Pumpkins of this period were everything rock is supposed to be about- a bunch of kids playing great songs, all just friends on an adventure. After Siamese, it would never quite be the same again, and though their albums would keep getting better, their story would only get sadder.

I'm not going to tell the story everyone knows- a dead fan in Dublin, a dead keyboardist in the States, and a dead mother to return to- that caused the first collapse of the band. I'm just going to say that for me, the pre-Mellon Collie Pumpkins as a band will always have the best mythos. That these scruffy geeks, shot through with neuroses (and increasingly) drug problems should get a chance at the big-time is the ultimate rock fable.

Then there's the albums. Obviously there's Gish, Siamese and Mellon Collie... but you know about all those. By the time 'Transformer' from The Aeroplane Flies High fades out of your speakers, the Pumpkins you know and love have left the building, and they will never be the same again.

The Mellon-Colle Pumpkins.

Drawing a line under their previous work, they continued to do new shit- the industrial rock on Batman soundtrack 'The End is the Beginning is the End' segued into the downtempo and bleak electronica of Adore before morphing into what was to be their best album, Machina/The Machines of God, an insane, megalomaniacal swan song of a concept album, mirrored in vision, genius and delusion by its sister-work, Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music. For all their flaws, it's this pair that are my favourite Pumpkins albums, as they unite both the 'rock' Pumpkins and the weirder, more experimental 'electronic' Pumpkins. From their first basement tape, Nothing and Everything (if memory serves) their entire discography is a natural progression that leads, inevitably, to the Machina duo, and I still cannot listen to songs like 'The Sacred + Profane' without being moved; even six or more years after they first entered my life, the grace and beauty of songs like 'This Time' and 'Home' still catch me like I haven't aged a day, and it's the first time I'm hearing them. 

The Machina Pumpkins.

After all that I still can't really say why the Pumpkins are so special, exactly. maybe I feel an affinity with a character like Corgan who drives those close to him away, I don't know. What I do know is that no band's music will ever be as special to me as the Pumpkins' was when I first heard it on my Walkman, listening secretly in bed on a school night.

This mixtape should about cover it. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sad Day for Puppets on Tour in 2011


Sad Day for Puppets are awesome, right?


In that case, you'll be wanting to see them live, and you can in February 2011. The best bit is that the Manchester date doesn't clash with any of the planned SSD nights either! Praise be!

The dates in full are as follows:

Friday, February 4 - Nottingham, Bodega -
Saturday, February 5 - Leeds, Nation of Shopkeepers -
Sunday, February 6 - Glasgow, Captain's Rest -
Monday, February 7 - Manchester, Moho Live -
Tuesday, February 8 - London, (Sonic Cathedral) The Social -
Wednesday, February 9 - London, Proud Galleries
Thursday, February 10 - Portsmouth, Cellars -
Friday, February 11 - Birmingham, Flapper -
Saturday, February 12 - Brighton, Jam -

Rock on!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Know Your Quarry

So anyone that's read this blog before will know that I have no fucking taste at all. My latest confession, for some reason, makes me feel worse than saying Lungs was one of the albums of 2009, my Police or Peter Gabriel obsessions, love of All Saints' 'Pure Shores', Avril Lavigne's 'Girlfriend' or rabid defence of Ash's entire back catalogue. 

Dramatic, no? So what could this transgression be? Believing Muse's cover of 'Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want' to be superior to the Smiths' version? The Pumpkins' cover of 'Transmission' to be better than the original? Wagner's X Factor rendition of 'Creep' to trump Radiohead? No, nothing that bad (though I do believe those first two to be true); just that I've been listening to 'Know Your Quarry' from the most recent Biffy Clyro album, Only Revolutions, rather too much. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't object to Biffy as a rule; I don't even necessarily object to the more 'pop' parts of their oeuvre. I'll hum along to 'Bubbles' or 'Folding Stars', though for me their best moment is the slide in when the heavy guitars drop in 'Now I'm Everyone' off Puzzle, or perhaps the dumb octave stabs that kick off that same record (I should add, that yes, I like their earlier albums too, but that GRRRR in 'Now I'm Everyone' just beats all comers, sorry). The thing is, 'Know Your Quarry' is very vacuous. The lyrics are shit, the little funk-glam stompy chorus section sounds like Franz Ferdinand, and the intro is just plain out of place. 

So why, even as I write this, am I looking forward to wandering next door, putting the CD in and chilling out to it? The only answer I can think of is simply this: pizzicato strings. Let's be honest, they are awesome. Without them, 'Orinoco Flow' would be crap, and, er, that's the only one I can think of right now. Ok, so I'm a little short on evidence, but that changes nothing. Go dig out that album, skip it to track eleven, stick out the first minute, ignore the lousy lyrics and be swept away. 

Just don't come crying to me when it gets under your skin.