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. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

2000 Trees

Ahoy hoy there. Yes, there have been sparse updates at best, but that's because I'm interning at Mixcloud. So without any further ado, here's a podcast on the 2000 Trees line-up. Enjoy!