Monday, 26 December 2011

What is Music? - Best of 2011 List

Ok, I should basically start out by saying that I've already written a list for Classic Rock Presents: Prog, and will be writing a quick one for the SSD blog, but this is going to be different to both. This is mainly due to an unhelpful mixture of forgetfulness, stupidity, and not having to choose from only records reviewed in Classic Rock...!

So, that's the disclaimer out of the way - time to talk about some records!

Top LPs

1. Tao of the Dead - ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
A punk record with the attitude of a prog record... or is it the other way round? Either way, it's without a doubt the most accomplished, and let's face it, downright cool record of the year.

2. Route One Or Die - Three Trapped Tigers
In terms of 'originality', or indeed anything even remotely approaching it, there's only one real contender - Route One Or Die. Bizarre, challenging, angular, but melodic as fuck - it's totally thrilling. 

3. Gangs - And So I Watch You From Afar
When this came out, it looked like the album of the year was theirs... but then 2011 has been an exceptional year. Up there with the finest instrumental guitar records I've ever heard, Gangs combines virtuosic guitar playing with finely-honed songwriting, expressed in a traditional band format. It's geeky, it's esoteric, but it's equally accessible - and that's why their stumble at the end of this year was so tragic. For ASIWYFA, this is likely to be the apogee of their career. 

4. Sans Souci - Brontide
Led Zeppelin do math-rock, channel Oceansize, rock harder than is reasonable. If you don't have this record, you need it. 

5. The Magic Place - Julianna Barwick
All vocals, all looping, all the time. Jokes aside, Julianna Barwick's new album really does create something truly mesmerising out of her improvised sound collages. It's not going to be for everyone, but it's worth checking out. 

6. Helioscope - Vessels
A winner for Stuart Warwick's contribution to 'Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute' alone, Helioscope marks Vessels out as serious contenders on the post-rock scene, and wipes the floor with their sometimes aimless début White Fields and Open Devices. Brilliant. 

7. Relic - Matt Stevens
More instrumental guitar, this time in a downtempo way. Matt Stevens' work ethic with TFATD is admirable, and to bedroom musicians the world over he's an inspirational case of the triumph of true artistry through hard work and talent. 

Dananananaykroyd - There Is A Way by WorkItMedia

8. There Is A Way - Dananananaykroyd
In a word: FUN! RIP Dananananananananananananananan.....

9. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will - Mogwai
'George Square Thatcher Death Party'; need I say more?

10. H-p1 - White Hills
Drones, drones and more motorik beats than you can shake a stick at. 'Paradise' may well be the most hypnotic track of the year. 

11. I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone - Maybeshewill
Though the album as a whole wasn't as good as some of its high points, Maybeshewill continue to go from strength to strength, and their word-of-mouth fanbase deservedly continues to grow. That said, this is only a record for those of the post-rock persuasion. 

12. The Big Roar - The Joy Formidable
Grunge meets shoegaze meets post-rock. What? Those all came from the same bands? Well I guess they've come home to roost then. Apart from the drumfail in 'A Heavy Abacus' (where's the double-time chorus, guys?) I don't have a bad word to say about this record.

13. You're An Ocean Deep, My Brother - Firesuite
Picking up where Failure left off, or Cave In circa Antenna, at their highest peaks Firesuite marshall something elemental in their furious, atmospheric (or should that be trans-atmospheric?) space rock. 

13. Violet Cries - Esben and the Witch
Sinister as hell, but beautiful all the same. A marmite record which will either sound like drifting fog in Winter committed to tape or a painful, pointless dirge. 

14. Poor, Poor Grendel - Fairewell
Though it has its eccentricities, there are some touching moments on Fairewell's bedroom record. Strong when soundscaping, weaker when attempting the dream-rock, it'll be interesting to see what Jonny does next. 

15. Grievous Bodily Harmison - Casino Zone
The first thing approaching a full-length these noisy bastards have yet concocted, I'm sure some would consider it worthwhile for the name alone - but songs like 'Fuck Numerals' and 'Complete Artistic Failure' are harrowing and beautiful as they lash out with angsty brutality. 

Top EPs

It's now 11pm, so each of these will get three words to sell it to you. 

1. Victims and Vultures Alike - In Casino Out / FULL ON ROCK
2. Mindhammers - Hawk Eyes / GRR YES MELODY
3. Whoa Whoa, Hey Hey - The Calimocho Club / TRASH BLUES WIN
4. Vasco Da Gama - Vasco Da Gama / MATH POP INSANITY
5. Freak Show - Always the Quiet Ones / CLASSIC ROCK GRUNGE
6. The Institute of Modern Love - Part I / OLD SCHOOL PROG
8. Valour - Pure Reason Revolution / RIP PRR X
9. In Honour of Today - Pilot:X / FRESH POST PROGRESSIVE
10. Are You Friendly - Kid For Today / ODD POP AWESOMESAUCE
11. Crystal - Younghusband / FUNTIMES WITH SHOEGAZE

Trojan Horse - Trojan Horse counts as last year and so isn't here. If you want, you can count the remastered edition, but...
The Octopus - Amplifier featured on my list last year as I received my copy before Christmas 2010.
Battleships did not release a named EP this year, so they have nothing admissible.

Tweet me @hipsters_unite if ya wanna argue x

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cyril Snear
with Trojan Horse, Douga and Black Market Serotonin
Night & Day, Manchester, 6/11/2011
Rating: 4/5

Right, so first up were Black Market Serotonin. I'm not going to dwell on their set long (mainly as they're on SSD), but from their live show it's evident that Andy in particular has grown greatly in confidence as a frontman over the last year. On the other hand, various things remain more raw about their nascent prog-industrial music; the tunes themselves may be polished, and an album may be on the way, but a refusal to dumb down the music live is both a strength and a weakness. 

Slaved in the past to DAVE (or Digitally Automated Vibe Engine, a laptop), they now find themselves in the hands of a marginally less harsh Juno synth; nevertheless this band of exceptional musicians are still occasionally wrong-footed by the samples, and it does beg the question as to whether a fluid live show or fidelity to the record should be a band's number one priority. For my part, I don't know what the answer to that conundrum is.

Second were Douga; on the record there's a hint of the folktronica-come-alternative pop of the Beta Band, but live that's very much the dominant impression that's carried away by the pleasantly off-kilter indie rock on display (and I mean 'indie' in the sense of '90s US bands, not four-piece bands of dickheads from Shoreditch). With two strong sets of songs under their belt (a single and EP) already, as well as some decent shows, Douga's fortune looks set to improve even further from here on in. 

Third were Trojan Horse. Look, I'm not even going to bother. Here, their album is free. GO LISTEN. The only thing really worthy of mention is that they trashed the stage rather more comprehensively than usual, and I had to dodge a flying Yamaha keyboard. Nice. 

Finally Cyril Snear were ready to tear it up. This marked the first time I'd seen the 'Snear live since hearing the pre-masters for their new record, The Riot of Colour, and live tracks like 'Confabulation' surely rank far above all of their work thus far, both in terms of quality and sheer hard rock whallop. At the moment there's only one band on the scene that look poised to claim the Manchester prog mantle ere vacated by Oceansize; while the 'Horse may be the truer sons of Prog, there's only one home grown post-prog band that can challenge the likes of the Kscope stable in the modern progressive stakes... with their Amplifier support slot and Tool-esque hammerfalls, that band is surely Cyril Snear. 

Given that 2011's not even spent yet it may seem premature to be making bold claims for next year, but let me be the first to suggest that The Riot of Colour will make at least this lowly scribe's 'Best of 2012' list. Fuck yes. 

And now for something completely different...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

County Champion with Trojan Horse
Islington Mill, Salford
Thursday 20th October
Rating: 4/5

I'm sure by now everyone's tired of me periodically emerging from hibernation to pen words about Trojan Horse, but well, fuck off. Tonight on an incredible bill topped by Circles and Secret Chiefs 3 (who I was regrettably destined to miss) were County Champion and Trojan Horse. The latter - if you have ever read this blog before - you will know already, but the former may be somewhat more enigmatic. 

Well, without further ado let me lift the veil. As perhaps the more acute and tuned-in of you will have noticed, the picture is of Charlie Barnes and Ste Anderson from Charlie Barnes & the Geekks... and that's because County Champion is the new name for that very band. At 2000 Trees this year they effectively announced their arrival with a new set of tunes contributed to by every bandmember, and Charlie finally assumed the frontman role he'd hitherto never quite grown into. Out was glitch-pop and in was drop-D (though fear not, he will continue to perform that under his own name). 

Even though their set was blighted by technical difficulties, you know it's a good sign when Mike Vennart and Gambler from Oceansize turn up to see your first show, and with a setlist that included 'Nasty Bastard', '18' and 'Balloons', County Champion certainly played to their strengths. Their sound is a concise blend of math and progressive, shot through with a slight post-hardcore edge. It sounds, if I were to boil it down to a single song by another band, kind of like the heavier passages of 'Only Twin', off Frames. There's that same epic abandon, the sense of the vocals riding a wave of previously contained, but now unleashed energy.

After the totally brilliant Champion boys had shuffled back into the crowd, it was time for the 'Horse to kick off their second show in as many days. They've always been an exceptionally hard-working band, and these days it seems there's not a week that goes by without a slew of Trojan Horse gigs. As they grow in stature, I'm gradually becoming one of a number of familiar faces at their gigs, and lest it smack of me laying out my wares smugly for all to see, I've got to say that it feels great to have seen a band grow from being a completely underground entity to being a major force on a local scene. That it should be a band as capriciously brilliant as TH is just icing on the cake, really. Here's to Prog Nouveau. Vive la revolution!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning [Review]

Hello there, I'm not going to post it up here, but Kscope kindly sent me a copy of Grace and I reviewed it for HV here. If you use the little search box on this page, you'll also find an old review of Insurgentes, his last solo album.

In the meantime, here's 'Harmony Korine' from Insurgentes.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mount Fabric
Hairy Wolf Records
Out Now
Rating: 3/5

Someone's listened to their Muse b-sides. So there's a new Mount Fabric EP, Threads, and this time they've apparently decided to ditch all of their excess influences, for the simple fact is this whole affair sounds exactly like either Muse or Radiohead.

Take track one, 'The Lightning Fork'; the pre-chorus is 'Sober' from Muse's Showbiz, and the chorus is 'Lucky' from Radiohead's Ok Computer. Now personally I'm going to forgive that, as I rather enjoy MF, but I can see a lot of people (even those not initially turned off by the Muse/Radiohead comparison) that will switch off after realising that.

Anyway, the former being true, 'Squelettes' is a guilty-pleasure of an upbeat number, 'ROC' the token ballad/atmospheric piece, and 'Cortisol' the more 'experimental' electronic track; think '13 Step'. Perhaps it sounds like I'm being a little unfair here, but let the record show that nowhere did I say these tracks were bad – they're actually all very good (with the exception of closer 'Fault', which is rather too close to '90s adult-oriented pop-rock for my taste) – but they aren't original, and it's not unfair of me to observe that it's going to be a deal-breaker for some. 
Vasco Da Gama
Vasco Da Gama
Out Now
Rating: 4.5/5 

On 'Nada Mas' the spaz starts immediately (can I say that?), with a set of manic harmonies before pleasantly strong vocals and reverb-drenched harmonies enter the mix. The overall effect is probably the mildest verse on the EP, and it's rather unfortunate that peoples' first exposure to it will come in autumn, for it's got an undeniable summer-pop lilt to it.

'Long Ships, Massive Hands' meanwhile has an almost power-pop vibe to it; I'm reminded of 'Tomorrow's Papers' by Luther Russell (bizarrely enough), and more so than the previous track the drums are allowed to coast to the fore in the composition, highlighting that truism of math- that it just isn't possible without a truly exceptional drummer. Though on the EP the excessively trebly guitars aren't fully counterweighted by the bass, live this song is an absolute belter, and it's definitely one of those tracks that grows substantially better once you've contextualised it by seeing Vasco play a show.

While we're on the subject, let's just deal with their band name too, because it's fucking awesome. I mean, besides the fact that it's one of those band names that I really wish I'd thought up first, it somehow manages to pretty solidly evoke the sheer bipolarity of what Vasco are trying to achieve with their songs.

Their grand math-pop gesture is Guts Ahoy!, which sounds actually rather like Wot Gorilla?; rather it's the EP closer, 'Teach the Young Team' that sets the template for their future success.

Complicated and catchy, obtuse in arrangement, it's nevertheless packed with pop hooks and great melodies. There's no question of it being their 'dumb pop song', or something they should be embarrassed by; for simply constructing something so brilliant is bloody hard. It's almost too cool, too brilliant for its own good, but I can't hold that against Vasco. I'll be humming it for weeks to come, and if you check it out I'm sure you will be too.

My prediction: an album of tracks like 'Young Team' and 'Long Ships...' and Vasco will be huge. In the meantime, slake your thirst with this exceptional EP and get excited about what's yet to come from this thrilling young band. 

Get it from Paypertiger here. Check out Vasco on Facebook here.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Casino Zone - Heart of a Dog = Sub Animal Noises

I swear the older I get, the more I enjoy this band. Like The Crocketts meets Yourcodenameis:milo or At the Drive-In. Sick, in other words. Check out their new track, 'Heart of a Dog = Sub Animal Noises'. Pretty funny video too, let's hope that the EP is as good as this single. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

I promise, when I get a job...

...that I will try and get updates to be a bit more regular around here. Anyway, in the meantime have two more free EPs from my label. Both come personally and critically recommended.*

*trust me on this one, it's 1am and I can't be bothered to find the links, but the press clippings are on their artist pages, or you can Google.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Confessions (EP)
Rating: 4/5
I have to admit, I wasn't totally sold on this EP at first. Of course I mean only until I'd heard the break at about three minutes in of track two, 'Broken'. After that I was sold.
So first let's dispense with the soundbite PR bit (and admittedly probably the reason this ended up on my doorstep); the driving force behind the band is Debbie Smith, who was the live guitarist for Curve. Naturally then, as you'd expect there's some similarity with Dean Garcia's post-Curve project, SPC ECO, although Blindness' sound is notably darker, more in tune with Curve's pseudo-goth asthetic than the joyous dream pop of SPC's recent Big Fat World EP.
Besides that (and not a reference to Curve in sight), what do Blindness sound like? Well, on track one it's driving dark shoegaze melded with the atmospherics of dark ambient- think Portishead's more unsettling moments- and the pop electronica sensibilities of recent Metric. In fact, however inappropriate that last reference point may appear, it's one that as a listener I kept referring to. 'Confessions' has a drum track that even quite reminds of 'Help, I'm Alive', though one doubts that Debbie Smith owns many Metric records.
Though the guitar noisily clawing its way to the fore on 'Broken' is my favourite individual moment, the closer 'No One Counts', with echoes of the increasing band dynamic of Massive Attack circa 100th Window (and specifically the guitar figures of 'What Your Soul Sings') is the finest individual track. At only three tracks it's a little light on running length, but on the basis of this their next release will still have to be exceptional for Blindness to truly stand out, good though it is. 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

2000 Trees 2011

Okay, so this one's been a long time coming, for reasons that are frankly too dull to bother with, so without further ado... 

So, 2000 Trees. Best festival ever. Let's begin with that, as the rest of this is likely to be rather incoherent due to a) being written at a months' distance, or b) how drunk I was during the festival. 

So, the first band we got to was Vessels in the Cave, who managed to pack out the tent with a crowd that was probably bigger than that garnered by either ASIWYFA or Amplifier, the two Cave headliners of the weekend. After a storming set that peaked early with 'Monoform' and 'The Trap', the bar had well and truly been set for the weekend. 

I'm fuzzy on the order, but at some point we also caught the post-hardcore progressive racket of The James Cleaver Quintet, filing them in the 'check out later' pile before seeing (in some order) Charlie Barnes, Jim Lockey and Mojo Fury. The latter, in fact drew quite a small crowd, and it's still frustrating to me that they aren't growing more rapidly, despite their great songs and seemingly perfect run of choice support slots and press. Oh well. 

Then it was onto Dinosaur Pile-Up on the main stage. By this point, a combination of Badger's Bottom and G & T was rapidly rendering me a Total Fucking Liability (I believe that is the technical term); nevertheless I recall a great rendition of 'Hey Man' (or was it 'Broken Knee'?) and a new tune called something like 'Daydream' that needs some more work. Not as triumphant as their ridiculous homecoming show in Leeds earlier in the year (where I had my head split open by Harry's bass in a moshpit), it was still a rad show. 

I've been told that I saw The King Blues. I've also been told that I was singing along to 'Save the World, Get the Girl', so I'm going to assume that it was a great set. However, personally I can't remember anything at all. My memory creeps back in around ASIWYFA's set, where they were ramping through 'Search:Party:Animal' and 'Gang'. Putting in probably the best set of the weekend, ASIWYFA reminded the crowd that while they may well have released the album of the year in Gangs, they are still the same formidable live band that they always were. Moshpits, crowdsurfing (band and crowd) and high fives before encores, goodnights and bars. Lots more bars. 

Then sunlight, confusion, headache and a beer before Ellen & the Escapades on the mainstage, kicking off the Saturday entertainment. At that point, her warm folk songs were exactly what our ragged band needed, and we almost felt ready when skapunks Chewing on Tinfoil took the stage for what turned out to be a really fun set. I think I napped through Zun Zun Egui, dreaming dreams of motorik beats, before catching a bit of The Cape of Good Hope in the Cave. They were good, but a little complex to form an opinion of while hungover and attempting to stop your mind from physically tearing in two, and I've yet to check them out post-festival (add to the long list). 

After that, we wandered back to the main stage to see what all the fuss was about with Islet. 

Okay, so imagine if all the characters from the 'We're All Dickheads' video got together and formed a band. Now imagine if it was about four times as pretentious as the one you're thinking of, with like three drumkits. That still doesn't quite accurately represent the level of absolute pretentious indie dross we're dealing with here. I mean, I don't much like Egyptian Hip Hop, but Islet are almost a different level of wankers. Phil from Metamusic described EHH as 'pretentious wankers with a flanger'; Islet were grah, I can't even be bothered. If you want a positive review of them, look in the NME. If you want the truth, they bought a fucking Neu! album in some dusty record shop and now make pointless, boring, sub- Sonic Youth experimental cack.

When the opportunity presented itself, we fucked off and caught &U&I, who were pretty interesting; heavy and mathy, shot through with that post-hardcore bite you'd expect from a heavier math band. I wasn't too sure about their live show, but I'll keep an eye out for their album, due out some time in the future. After them, Talons; post-rock in a vein that didn't impress me overly when compared to Vessels or ASIWYFA, but didn't more me either. Then, Hawk Eyes, impressing me more in the late afternoon fug than at any previous time I've seen their thrashy guitar antics. 

I stuck around for Japanese Voyeurs, expecting great things on the evidence of their debut, Yolk, and their fine set at ITC 2010... but to be honest they let me down. Rather than a wall-of-sound grunge roar, it was rather more flat, and I left before their set ended in order to catch Three Trapped Tigers. 

Cards on the table, I think with Route One or Die I've found my album of the year, and Three Trapped Tigers never disappoint live. They are just bloody fantastic in every important way, and if you haven't already, you need to buy their record and go to a show. Not should do but need to. 

For the life of me, I can't actually remember what time Charlie Barnes was on in the Leaf Lounge, but he was fucking awesome. Playing a host of new songs, he's finally grown into the frontman he always threatened to become, and has firmly placed both himself and his band into the vacant space left by the recently-deceased Oceansize. More mathy in feel, progressive in length and heavier in attack, his newer material shows two things; firstly, that his experiences of touring, both with his band and Amplifier have deepened his appreciation for dynamics and instrumental interplay in a way that was not felt on his solo debut, and secondly, that the guitar is once again at the fore of his compositions, a welcome change in direction that breathes fresh interest into an already fascinating young career. If Charlie gets this new material out there into the right places, he could easily find himself on the main stage next year, that's my two cents.  

Anyway, after a bit of Frightened Rabbit it was time for Amplifier, who saw out the weekend in a tidal wave of riffs, moshing and sheer awesome. Enough said, really. 

P.S. O mighty Gods of 2000 Trees, next year let's have Brontide and Wot Gorilla? on the bill though, yeah? Cool. 

Thursday, 25 August 2011

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Tao of the Dead
Superball Music
Out Now
Rating: 5/5

My discovery of this album if anything proves that at least I'm writing for the right people. After reading a glowing live review in Classic Rock Presents: Prog, and trusting that any label willing to sign Oceansize would probably put out good craic, I picked up their most recent long-player, Tao of the Dead, out on Superball Music. It's a concept album, and admittedly I haven't got into that side of it especially yet, but the music has proven infectious enough that it's become the soundtrack to my Californian roadtripping these last two weeks.

Opening with the 'Introduction', you're confronted for the first time by a scalic, harmonized math guitar riff that will return throughout Tao, as it ebbs and flows with the dynamic of a record written almost as a single piece of music. When Steven Wilson announced The Incident, I have to admit that, rather than what he eventually delivered, I was expecting something much more like Tao; gleefully self-referential, sprawling and unrelenting.

Possibly my favourite thing about this album is that, as band members switch instruments, you can almost feel the changes in personnel; where 'Pure Radio Cosplay' and 'Summer of all Dead Souls' have drums that'd be at home on any Shinobu or West Coast punk record, 'The Fairlight Pendant' has a motorik drive to it, and these are just the tip of the iceberg where subtle shifts in playing style are concerned. The punk reference is apt too, for while this record is often going to be heavier than some casual listeners would prefer, there's also a breeziness to it; most of the album is in a major key, and for all the Fugazi-Sonic Youth dissonant turns it's certainly not so hard going that a mainstream rock listener couldn't dig the bulk of it.

With the emotive pull of 'Ebb Away'- directly following the fantastic reprise of 'Pure Radio Cosplay'- the record takes its final turn, as the band embark on 'Tao of the Dead Part Two: Strange News from Another Planet', a sixteen-and-a-half-minute blast of summery math-prog and post-rock meandering that neatly encapsulates everything I've grown to love about this band. Unlike all the other tracks that have preceded it, 'Tao Part Two' changes from a D tuning to an F tuning to mark the transition, though arguably the end of 'Part One' falls shortly before the intro of 'Ebb'; regardless, it's still an impressive feat of musical arrangement and artistic vision.

Ultimately however, the greatest thing about Tao is that it's the sound of a band literally doing whatever the fuck they feel like, and being good enough musicians to pull that off. It's fucking brilliant. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Calimocho Club
Whoa Whoa, Hey Hey
Out Now
Rating: 4.5/5

Need a soundtrack to a barfly night of whiskey drinking? Well, I might just have the solution for you. After announcing their untimely demise a while back, the band formerly known as The Black Knights have returned with their new project, The Calimocho Club. Where The Black Knights were the soundtrack to an alcohol-fuelled frenzy, TCC have changed tack somewhat; while there's no doubt that on tracks like 'Baby Got A Switchblade' TBK's more brutal side lies in wait in the wings, in general TCC's sound is more soulful and melodic, songs to get wrecked and hit the town to, rather than see the place burn.

'War Machine' is the best of these, a laid-back, slow-motion haul that makes you almost feel the drink weighing you down into the soft alcoholic glow of a Friday night, while 'Roll the Dice' is the overall highlight, with a chorus so rad that it'll have you kicking things over just to show some fucking appreciation. 

All in all, it's a pleasant return to form for the blues duo, and given the outstanding songwriting and recording quality of this first effort, let's hope there's more to come soon. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Out Now
Rating: 4/5

I remember once my bandmate admitted whilst very drunk that he had a great secret. Casting an eye this way and that, he lowered his voice before speaking. “Dude,” he said in a confessional tone, “I think I like Team Sleep more than Deftones.” He stared into his drink as if it held some sublime wisdom.

Well, I think my would testify to the fact that I love the Deftones, but I think I'd have to agree; much of what I love about the Deftones is present (in a roundabout way) on Team Sleep, and my favourite Deftones album, Saturday Night Wrist, arguably was heavily influenced by Chino's experience of working with the musical styles he flirted with on Team Sleep.

Anyway, whilst I had high hopes for Team Sleep coming back with a second record, it looks like that's not going to happen, which is a damn shame. However, there's a silver lining; namely that he had the time to hook up with some of the dudes from Far (admittedly a band I'm not that familiar with) and form Crosses (or †††, if you prefer).

Essentially a more electronic iteration of all of Chino's avant-garde urges, apart from a fatter bass tone Crosses have much in common with Team Sleep. The electronica of opener 'This is a Trick' is balanced out by the dream-pop 'Option', reminiscent of Curve or SPC ECO, while 'Bermuda Locket' has a little bit of Smashing Pumpkins' 'Eye' about it, and with a Corgan vocal could easily be a track from their Adore-era output.

The highlight of the set though is 'Thholyghst', which is kind of a mash-up of 'Tomb of Liega' and 'Live from the Stage' from Team Sleep. It's menacing and atmospheric, and when it finally cuts loose, Chino's voice soars above washes of triumphant, Machina-era Pumpkins industrial fuzz. It's joyous, sending shivers down the spine as it brings a smile to the face.

The question is, with this under his belt, can Chino put a foot wrong? Well, yes. There's no physical release for the EP yet, and no news of an album to follow, which leaves me frankly with a thirst that cannot be slaked.

While I wallow in existential angst, I'd suggest you download a copy for free from their Facebook page

Monday, 25 July 2011

Kid For Today
Are You Friendly?
Pipco Collective
Out Now
Rating: 4.5/5

The first time I heard of Kid For Today was when Charlie Barnes nodded in bandmate Josh (AKA Kid For Today)'s direction and told me to check his stuff out. “You'll fucking love it” he assured me with a mischievous grin. 

Now, before I lapse into some kind of semi-autobiographical prose dross let's talk about Are You Friendly?. Well, the first and most obvious thing to say is that yeah, I do fucking love it. Like a kind of hyper lo-fi Beta Band (see 'Hello Mr. Magpie), with swatches of Nice Nice and even Meursault ('Sticks') about it, KFT's music roughly inhabits that area usually branded 'folktronica', though 'Keep on Drowning' reminds more of '5/4' from Gorillaz and 'River Rocks' smacks of well, anything that Beck has ever done (sorry but Beck's stuff does all sound the same). 

The eclecticism of the execution however is this EP's true strength. Morphing from lo-fi folk to world music with jazz or funk flavours, it's at times like a 21st century take on Paul Simon's solo material (see the 'Ocean Song' passage of 'Keep on Drowning'); however many genres and instruments are tackled, it's still somehow elusively, transiently locked into a folk sensibility even as its many moods shift with it, passage by passage. 

For me, the best track is 'Green Lung'; I've always had a soft spot for distorted drums, and the track itself is a pleasing version of Peter Gabriel's multi-vocal-harmonied '80s excursions into African choral music as imagined by Engineers or North Atlantic Oscillation. Both 'Cell Count' and 'Clean Coloured Wire' have a similar electronic warble counterpointed by Secret Machines-style drums, and 'Green Lung' is consequently one 2:47 trip through a good seventy per cent of the things that I fucking love about music. 

Ultimately though, you can't boil Are You Friendly? down to a single track as that simply doesn't do it justice. If you're going to listen to acoustic guitars, fuck Benjamin Francis Leftwich's facile Radio-2-drivetime-mid-life-crisis bullshit and immerse yourself in something of more substance: this.  

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Rating: 4/5

YCNI:M are a band that if I'm honest I've known a little about for a long time, but only got into recently. Besides their first EP (which is generally the most fan- and critically- lauded of their works, or so I gather), Ignoto is the only thing of theirs that's really fully worth taking the time over. Like The Cooper Temple Clause they seem to have kind of gradually burned out and then given up before their chance to record a 'return-to-form' album. Then again, to use the 'cult band' clause (lest I be the recipient of internet hate), this is only my opinion. 

From opener 'I Am Connecting Flight' it's clear to see where their angular post-hardcore will take them, and the tone is set for much of the record. In fact, a lot of the guitar sounds that would make Oceansize so influential in certain circles are also present on Ignoto in spades, and that's hardly surprising; early tour partners and ascendant during the same period, they were presumably ripping each other off a little. Just as 'Amputee' recalls Vex's 'Clone Jesus', there are equally sonic touchstones between Ignoto and Effloresce

Single '17' is clearly their attempt at the prize; with only about twenty seconds of verse, it certainly doesn't fuck around, and the chorus is a masterclass in the anthemic collision of guitars that will be perfected on the latter half of the record, when they make forays into Slint or Mogwai- informed post-rock (or at least extended structures). 

'Rapt Dept' sounds uncannily like 'Interglacial Spell' from Amp's Octopus, and that's fitting; just as Amp were feeling the weight of their Soundgarden ancestry, 'milo occasionally have to pay their dues to the Seattle scene, and do so most clearly on this track. Their stab at the heart is 'Team Radar', which manages to have a certain pop sensibility about it despite its layers of distortion and dischord; it's this side of 'milo that In Casino Out would later channel so effectively on their seminal 2011 Victims & Vultures Alike EP.

However, it's tracks like 'Fivefour' that really show off YCNI:M's true strength. When the first guitar enters in the left ear, you're expecting a Fugazi grinding punk onslaught, but then a guitar enters with a counterpointing sweet melody and you're suddenly wondering if a) if that's Justin Lockey, b) if that's the first instance of the sound that would define White Belt Yellow Tag, and c) whether it's really a surprise that they couldn't come out with another album of this brilliant traincrash of playing styles, sounds and atmospherics. 

Other great tracks include the axiomatic on/off, pop-chorus/verse grind of 'Empty Feat' and the colossal menace of the closer, 'Audition'. Whilst I'm not going to pretend that at heart this is anything other than a great post-hardcore record, when situated within the broader canon of the last great wave of british guitar rock, it's truly special. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Trojan Horse
Live at the Good Ship, Kilburn

Another day, another Trojan Horse gig. Except this one is different- it's their first foray into our capital for a while, and by a quirk of fate I'm freshly returned from post-prog-math fest 2000 Trees and able to attend. A crushing blow was being unable to attend the Kites/Snear/Horse billing in Manchester last night (though I would suggest being made up for in the form of Charlie Barnes, Three Trapped Tigers and Amplifier, but I digress...), so a chance to see the 'Horse and Kites is most welcome indeed. 

From the word go it's an assured performance of songs that by now will be familiar to anyone that's been following the progress of this band. 'Fire', 'Disciplining the Reserve Army', 'Laces and Racists' and 'Mr. Engels Says' all get played, with 'Laces and Racists' being very much the standout of the material tonight. Nick ends up entangled in his guitar on the floor (was that a wince of pain I saw of beard caught on hardware, I wonder?), and a suitable degree of hardcore chaos encroaches upon what was, until their set at least, quite a civilised event. 

More than usual what is apparent tonight is TH's rock pedigree. Of the bands on the 'Prog Nouveau' scene, they are without a doubt the most 'classic prog' in style, and I'm not the first commentator to come to that conclusion. However, lest we forget, their background lies broadly in the punk scene, and it's a testament to the sheer eclecticism of their album that by choosing different material from it they can remind even as frequent a visitor as I to camp Horse of that fact, topped by a strange pang of surprise. 

Unfortunately, times run behind and I'm unable to stay for Kites' set, instead running down Kilburn high street for a train, making that two Sundays in a row that I catch my train at Waterloo with a minute to spare. Oh commuter belt, you are a harsh mistress. 

Trojan Horse's opener, 'Fire'.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Astronaut Dismantles HAL EP
Rating: 4/5

From this Extended Play, the follow-up to their début Amplifier, one might never have guessed at the problems bubbling below the surface. Granted, their début had a troubled birth, but arrive it did, being later re-released on SPV. The Astronaut Dismantles HAL, however, was their first set of original material for the label, and it builds on the melodic inclinations of the band showcased on the first record, without sacrificing any of the music's complexity, or indeed length. The six (seven if you include secret track 'Scarecrows') tracks are as long as an album, and there's a gratifying cohesion and fluency to the package as a whole. 

From the very first note in 'Continuum', Amplifier play the space-rock card, with Sel's voice staying subdued in tone before he explodes forth with the perplexing 'chorus' break of “JUST LISTEN!”. In fact, despite its substantial run-time, there's something joyously pop about this cut, evidenced on the surreal middle-eight vocal crescendo of “que sera sera, whatever will be, will be!” where once again vocals cut the guitar wash and magnificently ride atop Amplifier's multi-amp squall. 

Other highlights include the Zeppelin-esque stomp of 'Into The Space Age' and riff-heavy single 'Everyday Combat', which has since passed into fan-favourite territory, frequently clamoured for at shows. For me though it's the aforementioned 'Scarecrows' that has the currency to go head-to-head with 'Continuum' and 'Everyday Combat'. An acoustic-led number, it shows Amplifier thoroughly out of their comfort zone, stripped-back and at some of their most emotionally affecting. They wouldn't employ an acoustic in the same way until The Octopus' 'Oscar Night', and even then the subtle atmospherics achieved on 'Scarecrows' would be lost. 

Though Insider undoubtedly had its moments, it's hard to see how Amplifier ended up there based on this release; stories of label pressure, time- and budget- constraints aren't hard to dredge up, so if anything it once again vindicates their decision to go The Octopus alone, as if the quality of that album weren't reason enough on its own. The Astronaut Dismantles HAL is a worthy, indeed essential addition to Amplifier's body of work, and it is too often overlooked for being 'just' an EP. Call it a 'mini-album', call it what you like; just don't make the mistake of missing out on it.